Why I am optimistic about the Moscow municipal elections

Moscow is holding elections for deputies to city councils later this week – more than 1,500 seats are up for grabs in 146 local councils. It sounds impressive, but these councils have little funding and little power.

Although funding for city councils comes from taxes paid by local area residents, the actual amount available to the council is determined by a complex system involving both the national parliament and the city legislature.

For example, in the district of Yakimanka, where I am vice-president of the council, almost 90% of our budget goes to five employees and the head of the municipality. Our annual budget is only 25 million rubles ($409,000).

So why would anyone run for a position on a city council in Moscow?

Meet your municipal representative

Most successful candidates for councils hold important positions in the community – the principal of a local school or, say, the chief medical officer of a public hospital. For them, it’s a chore with little benefit and much to lose if they don’t toe the mayor’s line. Councils with a majority of such representatives have little or no incentive to seek to fulfill the wishes of their electorate, let alone lead them, if they conflict with the interests of the municipal government. They vote as they are told.

Most of the unsuccessful candidates are from political parties. They don’t campaign and have no real interest in getting elected. The parties represented in the State Duma put names on the ballot papers only so that they can report on their activity and ensure public financing of their participation.

Then there is a whole range of independent candidates. These candidates have played a key role in sparking interest in local elections in Moscow and beyond. A successful election campaign in 2017 saw over 250 candidates elected and gaining a majority in 17 councils. This “umbrella campaign” bringing together disparate candidates was led by Maxim Katz, blogger and campaign manager, with the support of former Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov. The campaign lowered barriers to entry for candidates by providing support with registration formalities, campaign management, advice and training.

Candidates ranged from well-known local activists to people like me who simply wanted to contribute to a better future. It wasn’t until I went door-to-door during my campaign that I realized I really wanted to show people that elected officials can truly be on the side of citizens and help find workable solutions to problems. local.

Independent but together

Very quickly, the independent candidates grew into a close-knit community that shared their experience and expertise to adopt best practices in our municipalities, such as developing horizontal links between activists to find solutions to problems.

One example is the “breathe.moscow” clean air initiative that I co-founded with another independent board member when the city’s pollution monitoring site went offline for nearly six months. In four years, we have built a participatory network of air pollution monitoring devices. The network provides real-time, open-source data from over 200 community-managed devices. It is a reliable alternative source of air pollution information and helps build support for policy changes.

We wanted to build on our successes and encourage more candidates to run in 2022. In our constituency, we have set up an advisory council to the council, which has been a good training ground for active local residents who could want to show up.

New conditions

Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there were at least four umbrella campaigns planned for the September local elections, three of which organized “schools” for potential candidates. Unfortunately, the war had a devastating impact on local elections in Moscow. Katz emigrated and his “umbrella” projects came to an end. However, 2021 State Duma candidate Mikhail Lobanov and local council member Alexander Zamyatin have picked up the slack and started a campaign called VyDvizhenie (We Movement), which has more than 100 registered candidates to run for the ballots. vote.

It’s a rare bright spot. Independent campaigns led by interim council members in a few municipalities suffered from the lack of motivation caused by the war. They were unable to secure a full set of candidates on the ballot and are unlikely to secure a majority, which was the goal of many of them.

And more than 30 active council members have had their candidacies revoked after being fined for publicly displaying “extremist symbols”. This prohibits them from standing for election for a year. For example, the head of the Yakimanka district was convicted for a “smart vote” sticker from the Navalny organization on his car. Footage from security cameras in the parking lot suggests he was put on his car by the same people who later became witnesses.

Candidates who made it to the polls face problems in the election itself, which has been extended to three days. It is extremely difficult to find independent observers for the entire period.

Last card in the sleeve of the town hall, it is the electronic vote, impossible to control. If the State Duma elections are any guide, it will probably mean that all the authorities’ candidates will be winners.

Even though it looks like there will be fewer independent board members in Moscow after the next election, I remain optimistic.

My work has taught me that you don’t need special status to usher in positive change. I was amazed at how much my constituents achieved through their perseverance. Even though the board to enter local politics in Moscow has been raised again, active citizens will find a way to make a difference.

Melissa C. Keyes