The political bloc of the Moscow Mayor’s office has begun campaign preparations for the 2022 municipal elections. As Meduza found out, the city administration plans to bet on public sector workers, who will run either as self-nominees or as members of the ruling party, United Russia. Candidates from systemic opposition parties will likely be able to campaign unhindered, but real oppositionists won’t see their names on the ballot. And electronic voting, which proved deeply controversial during the 2021 State Duma elections, isn’t going anywhere. Meduza breaks down the key points in the preliminary campaign plan here.
Elections to Moscow’s municipal councils are set to take place next September — in total, there will be more than a hundred campaigns. And according to informed sources, the political bloc of the mayor’s office has already put together a preliminary outline of how these campaigns should be run.
A source close to the Putin’s Executive Office (the Presidential Administration) told Meduza that city hall’s main pool of candidates is made up of “budget employees” — public sector workers like “doctors and teachers, well-known to residents of the districts.” They will run either as self-nominees or as candidates from United Russia.
A source close to United Russia’s leadership explained that candidates from the ruling party will run in districts where, in the 2019 Moscow City Duma elections, support for the authorities “was not bad.” Specifically, in the Zelenograd, Vostochnoye Degunino, Zapadnoye Degunino, Lianozovo, Lyublino, Kuzminki, Pechatniki, Maryino, Zyablikovo, and Orekhovo-Borisovo Yuzhnoye districts.
Two sources familiar with the discussion of the city authorities’ tactics in the municipal elections told Meduza that the campaign will be coordinated by Andrey Maximov and Denis Ogay — the same political strategists employed during the 2019 Moscow City Duma elections and the recent State Duma vote. Speaking to Meduza previously, both Maximov and Ogay denied cooperating with the Moscow Mayor’s Office.
Commands from the top
The political wing of the mayor’s office is also prepared to support “opposition” candidates — or rather, those with liberal convictions — who are sufficiently loyal to the authorities. Or, at the very least, nominate nominal United Russia candidates to run against them, who won’t actively campaign. One political strategist who works with the city administration underscored that the political bloc of the mayor’s office already has experience in putting forward such candidates. For example, in the Moscow City Duma by-elections in 2021, Vladimir Ryzhkov ran on Yabloko’s ticket and defeated United Russia’s Elena Razzakova — a little-known community activist nominated to run against him, who hardly even campaigned.
“They’ll help with campaigning, with strategists — as it was with Ryzhkov. The mayor’s office has good relations with Yabloko’s Moscow branch. At the very least, Yabloko’s familiar nominees will not be hindered — and perhaps, they’ll be helped,” the political strategist explained to Meduza.
Vladimir Ryzhkov assured Meduza that he had “no contacts” with the internal political bloc of the Moscow Mayor’s Office. “No one really interfered in my campaign. The entire campaign was absolutely free, sharp, competitive, and so on. You could say that complete democracy suddenly blossomed. I fully believe that in some of the capital’s districts in 2022, completely free elections will also be allowed — and the opposition will win,” he added.
The head of Moscow’s Yabloko branch, Sergey Ivanenko, also assured Meduza that representatives of the mayor’s office hadn’t approached him or his colleagues — and that “no agreements were made.”
“Any elections in a totalitarian system depend on the commands from the top. If there’s a command to regulate everything down to the last nail, as it was in the elections in the State Duma, then it will be so. If there’s no special instructions, then the situation takes shape differently. The local elections in Moscow are the main political event of the next year, they’re directly linked to the 2023 mayoral elections. If the mayor’s office won’t interfere [with your candidates] — well great, thanks!” Ivanenko said.
According to Meduza’s source close to Putin’s administration, representatives of the New People party paid a visit to the internal political bloc of the Moscow Mayor’s Office even before the elections to the State Duma in September. Allegedly, they were also interested in putting their candidates forward in the 2022 municipal elections. “In principle, the mayor’s office isn’t against it, but they saw that the New People almost have no people [candidates] in Moscow,” the source scoffed.
In turn, a Meduza source close to the New People leadership said that the party is still “settling into the State Duma,” but participation in the municipal election campaign “is being discussed.” Another source in the party said that currently, “the heads of regional offices are moving to Moscow to run a municipal campaign.” “They’ll [get into the municipal councils] and from there they will go to the Moscow City Duma, he explained.
Speaking to Meduza, New People founder Alexey Nechayev said that the party will definitely participate in Moscow’s municipal elections. “No one from the mayor’s office came to us, and we aren’t going to come [to them]. We’ll have an independent campaign, we don’t need this,” he added.
Hard luck for ‘non-systemic’ candidates
During Moscow’s last municipal elections — in 2017 — opposition candidates were relatively successful. Seven of the city’s 146 districts didn’t elect a single United Russia candidate to their municipal councils. And in 25 districts, the “party of power” obtained a minority of seats.
Back then, most of the victorious opposition candidates had the backing of the United Democrats, a coalition established by then-State Duma lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov and political strategist Maxim Kats. The project, which they described as “political Uber,” offered campaign assistance to more than 1,000 opposition candidates. Most of them were nominated by Yabloko. Dmitry Gudkov stated that 266 candidates were elected to municipal councils in Moscow thanks to the coalition’s work.
However, a source familiar with city hall’s plans for 2022 told Meduza that in the next municipal elections, “non-systemic candidates who collaborated with Navalny or sympathized with him, or candidates who cooperated with [Mikhail] Khodorkovsky’s structures won’t be allowed to run in the elections.”
As you may recall, earlier this year the State Duma adopted a bill banning anyone “involved” in the activities of extremist organizations from running in elections in Russia at all levels. Alexey Navalny’s nationwide network of campaign offices was outlawed as “extremist” in June, and election authorities used this as a pretense for refusing to register a number of opposition candidates for the September elections.
Long live electronic voting
Another factor the Moscow Mayor’s Office is hoping for is remote electronic voting (DEG). The system was used in the capital during this year’s State Duma vote — and it provoked the biggest scandal of the elections.
Before the electronic ballots were counted, several candidates from the nominal opposition appeared to be leading in Moscow’s single-mandate constituencies. But after the e-votes were tallied, candidates backed by the mayor’s office won in all 15 single-mandate districts. Both oppositionists and experts suspected that the e-voting system was used to rig the elections; the Communist Party (KPRF) even refused to recognize the electronic voting results in the capital. But the head of Moscow’s Election Monitoring Public Committee, Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexey Venediktov, responded by saying that an audit team “didn’t uncover traces of hacking and ballot stuffing.”
“The DEG experience [was] successful, Moscow will try to keep this system for its elections,” a source close to the mayor’s office told Meduza. He claims that “the system worked,” and “conversations about ballot stuffing or falsifications stopped eventually, and that they were led by those who didn’t believe [electronic voting was] fair.”
Alexey Venediktov underscored to Meduza that, as far as he knows, the authorities have yet to decide whether they’ll continue their experiment with electronic voting.
At the time of this writing, Moscow Mayor’s Office spokesperson Gulnara Penkova had not responded to Meduza’s inquiries about campaign preparations for the municipal elections and the prospect of using the electronic voting system.
Abridged translation by Eilish Hart