Initially holding 40 out of 45 seats in Moscow’s City Council, Putin now holds just 25 and the party’s image is in tatters. Now though, the Communist Party is the second biggest in Moscow with 13 – and their leader is putting the Kremlin under pressure. Party leader Gennady Zyuganov is looking increasingly audacious in his exchanges with Putin – who may have to surrender some control to keep the opposition party from disrupting Kremlin plans. Dr Ben Noble of University College London, believes the Communist Party could well offer Putin more resistance than they have done before.
He told Express.co.uk: “With these nominally opposition parties having a taste of electoral success, which they’ve started to do, it could be that this changes their willingness to play by the Kremlin’s rules.
“For instance, following the release of the September 8 regional election results, the Communist Party leader has already had a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in order to start talking about the need for electoral legislation reform, doing so with a level of confidence that is clearly linked to these election results.”
Their increased ability to challenge the ruling party comes after they secured 13 of the 45 seats in the Moscow City Duma, while United Russia lost 15 seats.
The result came after 60,000 Muscovites took to the streets of the capital to protest the decision by the Russian Electoral Commission to expel opposition candidates.
The demands for free and fair elections created an embarrassing sub-narrative that looks to have cost Putin.
As a result of the PR nightmare, many candidates listed themselves as independents to try and wash away the party’s image.
Dr Noble highlights that Putin’s United Russia Party has had its reputation severely damaged, only managing to maintain control of Russian rhetoric through pro-Kremlin state TV and delegitimising of the opposition.
One way in which he has done this recently is through police raids on opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, with over 1000 police officers across Russia storming homes and FBK offices, Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation in Russia.
The investigations were supposedly surrounding corruption claims against Navalny, but were instigated after he orchestrated an anti-Putin smart voting tactic that looks to have contributed to United Russia’s loss of seats.
Putin may have even more opposition to contend with now though, as Dr Noble points out that United Russia’s weakened grip on City Dumas has inspired bravery from parties that otherwise obeyed the Kremlin.
He told Express.co.uk: “At times, the nominally opposition parties with multiple seats in the State Duma – the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party (which is, if anything, nationalist), and a party called Just for Russia – want to make it seem like they are real opposition parties by publicly challenging the authorities, but we know they cooperate with the Kremlin behind the scenes.
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“The Kremlin will say ‘you can act in an opposition way on this issue in order to show that we have political competition in Russia, but, on really key matters, you must fall in line and do as we say’.”
However, Dr Noble believes the electoral successes of these nominally opposition parties, partnered by United Russia’s losses, could mean that these parties start resisting Kremlin instructions more overtly.
He added: “With these nominally opposition parties having a taste of electoral success, which they’ve started to do, it could be that this changes their willingness to play by the Kremlin’s rules.”
Dr Noble also highlights the crop of younger, less obedient politicians coming through in Russian politics that could cause even more problems for the Kremlin.
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Although still members of nominally opposition parties that are partly co-opted by the Kremlin, they have demonstrated a greater capacity to challenge the ruling party than their leaders.
He added: “There is a much younger generation of opposition politicians who are more active and less willing to play by the Kremlin’s rules.”
For now, Dr Noble says the Kremlin remains calm, as there is a belief that the most recent elections were not catastrophic, despite not being a success.
The priority for Putin is now the 2021 legislative elections, where 450 seats are to be contended in the State Duma.