The 2011–12 Russia elections: the next chapter in Russia’s post-Communist transition?
The 2011-12 election cycle marked a potential watershed in Russian politics. At a time when many specialists had written off elections as an important political event because of their “managed” nature and almost certain outcome, Russia again surprised us. The two-part “election season” involved selection of members of the State Duma (the Russian legislative body) in December 2011, and the presidential vote that followed in March 2012. Not only was the outcome of the Duma election an unexpected blow to the ruling United Russia party, but the public activism that the election elicited suggested emerging new dynamics in the relationship between state and society. A significant element of the Russian public had apparently awakened, with tens of thousands of protesters, fed by social media contacts, pouring into the streets leading to the protest epicenter at Bolotnaya Square in central Moscow. The demonstrations erupted regularly over a period of months, beginning in December 2011 and continuing at the time of this writing in June 2012. The movement was galvanized by new figures, such as the popular anti-corruption blogger and protester, Aleksei Navalny. The Moscow demonstrations were joined by smaller protests in several cities across the country. Observers were wondering if this could mark an awakening of demands for leadership accountability, which eventually could translate into a halt or reversal of the authoritarian tendencies that had been building in the Russian political system since Putin took over the presidency in 2000. This chapter endeavors to place these events in an historical and comparative context and reflect on their significance for Russia’s political development.