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From the Ground Up
United Russia's Brand Continues to Show Its Cracks in Yaroslavl's Elections
Andrew Roth - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 4.3.12 - JRL 2012-61

In Yaroslavl, a city of more than half a million about 150 miles outside Moscow, an independent candidate for mayor dominated the Kremlin-backed competition in Sunday's runoff elections, winning 70 percent of the vote. Yevgeny Urlashov, an eight-year veteran of Yaroslavl's city council, ran on an anticorruption platform with support from a broad spectrum of Russian opposition parties. Experts noted that Urlashov's win highlights two growing trends in Russia: modest victories for the opposition in elections in the regions, and a critical loss of trust in the ruling United Russia party.

Even before Sunday's election results came in, there was a sense that Urlashov's campaign had found the critical momentum needed to carry him to victory. Local opposition parties, including the communists, A Just Russia and Yabloko, had united together behind the former United Russia city councilor. More than 1,000 election monitors traveled to Yaroslavl from Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other cities to prevent ballot stuffing and other voter fraud ­ a sign of the growing political activism among rank-and-file Russians

Yaroslavl Street Scene
file photo
"The road to the Kremlin goes through Yaroslavl," wrote Democratic Choice movement leader Vladimir Milov in a blog post before the election. As opposition protests in Moscow ran out of steam last month, a campaign for civic participation gradually took its place, with opposition leaders such as Boris Akunin saying "the civic movement has entered a new phase. The first phase, romantic and euphoric, is over," Russia media reported. He argued that the opposition should gather power from the ground up.

Opposition forces have scored some modest victories in recent local and municipal elections. On March 4th, as Putin was securing his return to the presidency, several young, opposition-minded candidates supported by the Our City initiative won seats as city councilors in Moscow. Several weeks later, United Russia candidates lost in remote but high-profile mayoral races in several Russian cities, including Tolyatti, the home of Russia's AvtoVAZ car maker and a recipient of Kremlin largesse. Despite billions in bailout funds to the carmaker, Sergei Andreyev, an independent candidate, won 56 percent of a vote seen as a referendum against the ruling party.

Yaroslavl, too, had been shaken in recent months after the loss of its Lokomotiv hockey team in a tragic airliner crash in September. While local investigators said pilot error was behind the disaster, Urlashov told reporters that he disagreed, quitting United Russia in the process. By the time of December's parliamentary vote, anti-United Russia sentiment was at its peak in Yaroslavl: United Russia won only 29 percent of the vote there, the party's worst showing in any of Russia's 83 regions.

In an interview with Izvestia, Urlashov said his opponent, current mayor Yakov Yakushev, had run a dirty campaign that had included fraud, in what he called an "attempt to seize power." Nonetheless, he said the results of the election were "only unexpected for someone who doesn't live in Yaroslavl. For those who know the city's problems, this victo