Russia: Winners & Losers in Round 1 of the Opposition's Debates

The first stage of the Russian opposition's Coordinating Council debates has ended. Advancing to Round Two (beginning today, October 8) are just 60 of the original 210 candidates. In the “semifinals,” the size of debate groups shrinks marginally (there will be three to a panel, instead of four), and candidates will have slightly longer to respond to questions (forty-five seconds instead of thirty). More significantly, debaters will now be allowed to actually debate [ru]: candidates will be able to question each other. Interactions of this sort (or of any sort, really) were almost totally absent in the first round, when candidates principally engaged the host and not one another.

So who has advanced to the next round of debates? Who among the candidates is best winning the hearts and minds of the opposition's voters?

Russians protest in Moscow, 4 March 2012, photo by Freedom House. CC 2.0.

In terms of absolute votes, the four top winners [ru] were Alexey Navalny, Liubov Sobol, Vladislav Naganov, and Vladimir Ashurkov. Navalny is Russia's most popular political blogger and the preeminent leader of the opposition, and Sobol, Naganov, and Ashurkov are all people who can fairly be described as members of his “inner circle.” If one looks at the results in relative terms (meaning, who won what percentage of their debate groups), Navalny drops to fourth place, behind film and television star Mikhail Shats and two other members of his circle: Vladimir Ashurkov (who won a surprisingly 76.5% of his panel, despite what your author would describe as an unnaturally soft voice and quiet disposition) and Georgy Alburov (who leads Navalny's RosVybory and Good Machine of Truth projects).

Another way to study the debate's first round is to measure the impact of the ten different candidate blocs [ru]. The groups with the three highest success rates were “The Seven Candidates of the Seven Projects” (a pro-Navalny vehicle, where 85% of its members advanced to Round Two), “The Green Bloc” (80%), and “Renewal” (75%). “Green” and “Renewal” owe their star power to Evgenia Chirikova and Ilya Yashin respectively (though Naganov is a member of both the Greens and the Seven Candidates). Ksenia Sobchak‘s much-touted “Civic Platform” performed middlingly (with just 58% of its members advancing), thanks largely to headliners Roustem Agadamov and Dmitri Bykov refusing to participate in the debates. (Another prominent member, Tatiana Lazareva, was kept away against her will by a sudden illness.)

The far and away biggest losers have been the election's nationalist blocs. They fielded 26 candidates, only two of whom (Mikhail Matveev and Artem Severskii) won enough votes to continue to the second round.

Andrey Illarionov, a former economic advisor to Vladimir Putin and a current senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C., was especially pleased with the results of the debates’ first round. He listed [ru] 18 examples where “unknowns” defeated famous Russian oppositionists. Some of his examples are questionable, such as Roman Dobrokhtov beating Vladimir Pribylovsky, and others ignore the victories of Navalny-camp figures (like Sobol, mentioned above, and Fedor Krashennikov, who is a member of The Seven Candidates bloc). That said, Illarionov does highlight some genuine surprises, such as the defeat of Gennady Gudkov and Ilya Ponomarev (both highly visible Duma deputies, one former and the other current), as well as loses by Olga Romanova and Anastasia Udaltsova.

Stay tuned to Global Voices for future coverage of the Coordinating Council's next round of debates, in addition to further analysis about the opposition's elections, which begin on October 20.

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