Even though the post-election discussions center on Vladimir Putin’s hold over electoral politics in modern Russia and whether this is healthy, some in the opposition now find themselves in power after winning local elections. Now, with real power in hand, how will the opposition transition its message into practical policies at a grass-roots level? In other words, now that they have some power, how will they do things differently?
Rather than protest in the streets, some young Moscow residents decided instead to run for office in local municipal elections. Shockingly, many were elected and now they face turning their opposition into policy – a difficult though not insurmountable challenge. Many of the candidates who ran out of a sense of civic protest are young and their presence on the Russian political landscape demonstrates the extent to which things are changing after the chaos of the scandalous parliamentary elections of last year.
Most of these candidates have won office on small district councils started through a program called “Our City,” a program created by opponents to Vladimir Putin’s rule. Though many of the 1,500 open council seats are occupied by Kremlin loyalists and Communists, the inclusion of the younger generation in the political process has infused some new life into Russian politics and, in many ways, has acted as a barrier breaking moment in the post-Soviet era. While few harbor illusions of swift change, the opportunities for organization that exist now that were not present before give hope that the future will be a freer, more democratic place to live.
Though many decisions in Russia are by unelected bureaucrats, the power to mobilize the local population can sometimes dent the monolithic power of the state and result in a triumph for the community. This was not the case in the Soviet era and was largely not so in the post-Soviet era.
One of the most sobering realities to emerge from the recent presidential elections was that Vladimir Putin, despite voting irregularities in the parliamentary elections last year, has won re-election legitimately and overwhelmingly by any real measure. The hope is now that, after having won election, President-elect Putin will work with opposition leaders to build a freer, more democratic society as part of his quest to build a stronger, more prosperous and globally influential Russia.