The seminar is a part of a series of online panels with a focus on political processes and elections in post-Soviet countries. The first panelist, Ben Noble, lecturer in Russian politics at the University College London, described the context of the September 2020 regional elections and pointed that this was a "dress rehearsal" for upcoming federal elections next year. The control over the State Duma is a crucial task for the Kremlin. Given a shift in loyalties among the voters, this task much harder to fulfill; thus, the regime has engaged in further experimentations with electoral rules to deal with the problematic attitudinal shifts in the public. Above all, Putin's succession problem looms large, and the "menu of manipulation" will play a major role in ensuring the perpetuation of his rule.
Andrei Semenov's presentation was mostly complimentary: he also noted the attitudinal shift and rising support for the non-parliamentary parties. While the aggregate voting intentions for the dominant party stagnate at 30 pp., the voters are not ready to support the systemic opposition parties either. Hence, there was a clear chance for the opposition to seize the moment and garner additional votes. The pandemic and the economic recession add fuel to the fire: according to the polls, Putin is clearly held responsible for handling the crisis, and his supporters are likely to defect if they suffered from the crisis.
According to Andrei's talk, the main task in the September elections was to avoid surprises in the regional executive elections. In regions like Arkhangelsk, Perm, and Sevastopol, the independent challengers were denied registration due to the municipal filter. Consequently, all the Kremlin-backed candidates won, with some margins of victory larger than Putin's share of votes in 2018. On the legislative level, United Russia reasserted its presence in its traditional strongholds; however, its average share across the regions fell below 50%. The systemic opposition also didn't improve its share much. Novel party projects like "New people" or "For the truth!" were able to get to the legislatures in some regions, which allows them to run for the State Duma next year without a cumbersome signature collection process.
Both analysts agreed that the Smart Voting strategy proposed by Team Navalny was a significant challenge for the incumbents. The strategy posits that the opposition-minded voters should focus their efforts on the candidates other than UR members who are most likely to win. While Smart Voting does not necessarily allow choosing the independent candidates or helps to win the contest, it is certainly an important innovation. The response to Smart Voting will shape future interactions between the regime and its challengers.
The video of the seminar will be available on the IRES channel. Andrei Semenov's presentation can be accessed here.