By Sarah Naidu
On September 8th, all 45 seats in the Moscow city council were up for reelection.
In the past years, the majority of the seats were controlled by United Russia, which is the majority, pro-Kremlin party. However, this year, many opposition candidates—who are known to be vocal critics of the Kremlin—placed a bid to run. In order to be placed on the ballot, each candidate must gather a minimum of 5,000 signatures from voters. Many of the opposition candidates were disqualified on the basis of discrepancies in the signatures.
However, this isn’t uncommon in Russia. What makes this election unique is that on July 14th, nearly 2,000 protestors gathered in Moscow to protest the decision to disqualify several of the opposition candidates. A week later on July 20th, nearly 20,000 protestors gathered in Moscow to demand fair elections and to place the candidates back on the ballot. The fifth consecutive protest took place on August 10th, and the number of protesters is estimated to be between 20,000 to 50,000.
According to the Moscow police, an estimated 1,300 people have been arrested and many face sentences of 30 days or 15 years if convicted of organizing civil unrest. The majority of the protests have been sanctioned, which reduces the risk of arrests by a small amount.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was blocked from running against Putin in the 2018 presidential election, called for an unauthorized protest on July 27. However, Navalny was arrested on July 24 for organizing an unsanctioned protest. While jailed, Navalny was admitted to the hospital due to an allergic reaction, but others speculate it was an attempted poisoning. The unauthorized July 27 protest went onward, resulting in the arrests of over 1,300 protestors.
The Moscow protests are reflective of political trends in Russia. The popularity of Putin and the United Russia Party has been declining. On June 3, a survey was conducted by VTsIOM showed 71.7 percent of Russians thought Putin was trustworthy, which is a one percent decrease from the same poll conducted a week earlier. A large majority of feel disillusioned due to the falling incomes and the rising cost of living.
The protesters are demanding for free and fair elections in the heart of an authoritarian government, sending a message throughout the country and Putin’s regime.
Image courtesy of the New York Times