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The Yaroslavl Precedent: Is An Opposition Victory A Sign Of Things To Come?
Tom Balmforth - RFE/RL - 4.2.12 - JRL 2012-61

MOSCOW -- Was opposition candidate Yevgeny Urlashov's impressive win in Yaroslavl's mayoral election an exception? Or was it the latest sign of a groundswell of anti-Kremlin sentiment in the regions?

Yevgeny Urlashov Standing in Front of Poster Bearing His Photo
file photo
Urlashov didn't just win on April 1. He crushed his United Russia-supported opponent, local oligarch Yakob Yakushev, in a landslide -- taking nearly 70 percent of the vote. And he did so even as the local elite marshaled all the administrative, media, and law-enforcement resources at their disposal against him.

The electoral uprising in Yaroslavl came on the heels of a string of victories for opposition candidates in the regions, including mayoral elections in the automaking city of Tolyatti and in the town of Chernogolovka in the Moscow Oblast.

And on March 2, city council elections in the remote North Caucasus town of Lermontov were canceled after activists declared hunger strikes when two opposition candidates were barred from running. `

So is a trend afoot? Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center thinks so.

"This is quite a list," she says. "At least two of these places are fairly large. Tolyatti and Yaroslavl are big enough cities.

"The trend is defiance [against] and resentment of pro-government forces, especially United Russia and [also] much less acquiescence vis-a-vis attempts by the government to abuse its authority and rig elections."

Opposition Unity

Yaroslavl was also notable for the unified strategy Russia's normally fractious opposition used in the contest.

Urlashov was able to marshal the support of a broad medley of parties including the communists, the liberal Yabloko party, and the center-left A Just Russia.

He also had the backing of billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov as well as the civic organization Democratic Choice.

"The road to the Kremlin is through Yaroslavl," Democratic Choice leader Vladimir Milov wrote in a recent blog post.

According to Nikolai Petrov, a specialist in regional politics for the Moscow Carnegie Center, this unlikely synergy paid off.

"It's a precedent," he says. "It was a success story which is very important for the protest movement because after the presidential elections took place, it looked like there was nothing more to deal with until the next [presidential] elections. Now it looks like municipal elections will play the role of an engine, which will push forward political modernization."

Important Lessons

Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the Yabloko party, maintains that the cooperation had initially not been deliberate, but added that the Yaroslavl precedent offers important lessons.

"For the opposition of course it's a positive sign that it is possible in the current situation to win elections against the authorities," he says. "Of course, we have to give more attention to mayoral elections in big cities."

And they will get their chance soon enough.

The next big wave of regional and municipal elections comes in the autumn, on October 14, when a batch of regional parliaments, city councils, and mayors' offices will be up for grabs.

Petrov and other analysts have noted that a big prize on October 14 will