Monday, September 23, 2013

The next stage in Russian politics

While we await the final results in the German Federal election and watch with horror the developments in Nairobi (and remember what happened earlier in Peshawar) we can sigh wearily over Russian politics.

The September 8 local and regional elections in that country brought in several results that were not, perhaps, to President Putin's liking, which is probably why he decided to tangle with President Obama: a victory even though it was only notional was more certain.

Western media, understandably, concentrated on Moscow, the very low turn-out (which was true across the country) and the achievement of Alexey Navalny but a few people noticed that elsewhere there was a victory for the oppositionist Yevgeny Roizman in Yekaterinburg, where he is now mayor.

He seems to be making a nuisance of himself.
During the 10th annual Valdai Forum in Moscow on Monday, Yekaterinburg Mayor Yevgeny Roizman and Sverdlovsk Governor Yevgeny Kuyvashev discussed issues of decentralizing the Russian government.

Roizman and Kuyvashev met during a session on regional diversity as part of the Kremlin-sponsored Valdai Forum. Roizman, an outspoken critic of Putin and his regime, told Kuyvashev, a governor selected by Putin to oversee the Urals, during the opening remarks of the Valdai Forum that he wished to “reset” the hostile political situation in the Urals, The Moscow Times reports.
In Yaroslavl an even nastier thing happened to the President: one of the people he dislikes most (the list is not all that short, as it happens) Boris Nemtsov, was elected to the regional assembly at the head of his party, Republican Party of Russia – People's Freedom Party (Russian: Республиканская партия России — Партия народной свободы, Respublikanskaya partiya Rossii - Partiya narodnoy svobody), RPR-PARNAS (Russian: РПР-ПАРНАС.

This happened despite every precaution being taken as Vladimir Kara-Murza explains:
The recent legislative election in the Yaroslavl Region, where Nemtsov headed the list of the Republican Party of Russia–People’s Freedom Party, was organized in the customary manner, with censorship on local television (even paid ads were not accepted) during the campaign and numerous violations—including “carousel voting” and vote-buying—on the September 8th election day itself. But the plan did not fully work. Official figures across the region ranged from 17 percent for Nemtsov’s party and 24 percent for Putin’s United Russia in central Yaroslavl, where independent monitors were present at polling places, to an incredible 0.5 percent and 60 percent, respectively, in the Tutaev rural district, where no such monitoring was conducted. The overall result, however, put the People’s Freedom Party above the 5 percent threshold required for entering the regional Parliament.
Does Mr Nemtsov's electoral success really matter? Apparently yes.
One would think that, although irritating, the presence of Boris Nemtsov in one of Russia’s regional legislatures would not be considered too big of a problem for the Kremlin. But it appears the authorities think otherwise. Russia’s Investigative Committee, headed by close Putin confidant Alexander Bastrykin, initiated two criminal cases against the newly elected lawmaker. One is on the charge of “battery” under Article 116 of the Russian Penal Code, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison; the other is on the charge of “public calls to extremist activity” under Article 280.2, which carries up to five years in prison. Both charges, if brought to conviction, would mean that Nemtsov’s Duma seat will be taken away. The second charge would additionally deprive him of the right to run in any future Russian elections, as “extremism” is considered a grave offence.
The Russian news agency RIANovosti reports only the second of the charges, the one about extremism and even they sound a little doubtful. Mr Kara-Murza explains:
The “battery” charge stems from an incident on September 5th, when a provocateur from the pro-Kremlin Stal (Steel) movement approached Nemtsov at a campaign rally and threw two raw eggs at him, which drew a response from the opposition leader. Puzzlingly, the “victim” only went to the hospital to complain of “injuries” after the election.

The “extremism” charge, meanwhile, was leveled at Nemtsov’s speech at the same September 5th campaign rally. The precise sentence that attracted the interest of prosecutors was: “the liberation of Russia from the crooks and thieves must start from Yaroslavl.” An official spokesman for the Investigative Committee accused Nemtsov of “making a public statement that contained calls for a forceful change of the foundations of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.” “With this charge, they have admitted that it is crooks and thieves who are in power, and that opposing them constitutes extremist activity,” Nemtsov observed in response to the news.
One wonders whether the Investigative Committee has noticed that virtual admission. One also wonders whether there are charges being prepared against the Mayor of Yekaterinburg.

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