Author Archive | Joshua Tucker

Direct democracy in Switzerland: Yes to the army, vaccinations, and petrol station shops

Germany wasn’t the only country holding elections in Central Europe this weekend.  Swiss voters went to the polls for a number of referenda on Sunday, and we are pleased to continue our series of election reports with the following post-election report from political scientists Thomas Milic and Sean Mueller, both at the Institute of Political Science, University of Berne.


On 22 September 2013 the Swiss electorate, in its quarterly power of highest law-breaker and constitution-maker of the land, was once more called to the polls to answer three specific questions. First, whether the mandatory conscription service for all Swiss men should be deleted from the Federal Constitution and be replaced with the mere option to serve in the Swiss military for men and women alike; second, whether to approve a new law on vaccinations in times of epidemics; and third, whether to approve the modification of a single article in the Labour Code, thus enabling petrol station shops along busy roads to remain open also during the night. As had been widely expected, Swiss voters rejected the popular initiative launched by the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GSOA), thereby confirming the existing conscription system, and equally approved of the two legislative reforms. What remains however interesting for political scientists to observe is the wide sub-national discrepancy in approval/rejection rates, the different constellations across the three questions, and the result of various cantonal and communal votes.

An overwhelming yes to the army, but not equally strong throughout Switzerland

In Switzerland, modifications of the Federal Constitution (the term “amendment” is misleading since changes are not attached, but rather directly incorporated in the written document) need to be approved by a majority of people and also a majority of Swiss cantons, whereby the vote of a canton is determined by the way its people decide. From the outset, this was thought to be an extraordinary obstacle for the popular initiative on partial constitutional change – of all the 184 popular initiatives voted upon between 1848 and March 2013, only 20 (11%) had been approved ( and own calculations). Proposals reforming or even abolishing the Swiss army in particular have had a tough stand. This time around, too, an overwhelming majority of 73.2% Swiss citizens voted against the proposal, with quite a respectable turnout of 46.4% (the average turnout between 1990 and 2010 being 44.1%; State Chancellery). Although none of the 23 cantons approved, there are still notable discrepancies as regards the degree of approval of the status quo. Rejection of the initiative, in other words, has reached top-levels of more than 80% in seven cantons, with Uri at the top of the list with 85%. At the other end, in three cantons “only” some 60% voted no, with canton Geneva, at 57.8%, forming the other end of the continuum. To sum it up, rejection was particularly strong in cantons where the left parties are weak and in rural regions, where the number of people actually doing their military service is higher and where the compulsory military service is not regarded as a disadvantage in the labour market (Figure 1; from Tages-Anzeiger).


Shop opening hours and state vaccinations: the rural-urban cleavage

The other two questions to be decided at national level both concerned legislative reforms against which a referendum (that is a petition signed by at least 50,000 citizens) had been launched. Although both rather detailed items to be decided, at least the campaign on extending the opening hours of petrol station shops was marked by an interesting alliance of left-wing trade-unions and religious groups, on the one hand, and liberal and business interests, on the other. For the former, although the reform concerned merely 24 shops throughout Switzerland (Figure 2; from Der Bund), the issue really was about protection of workers from having to work all night and family values at risk in a so-called “24-hours society”. The latter, however, saw in the existing regulation a “bureaucratic monster” – the 24 petrol stations in question could already remain open all night, but had to close off their shopping areas between 1am and 5am. The result was accordingly a rather narrow victory of the liberalisation camp, with 55.8% voting in favour of the reform (turnout: 45.8%). This time, however, the less well-off cantons of Valais, Uri and Jura plus Fribourg and Neuchatel voted against the overall trend; the people of Jura even by a 65.3%-strong majority.

Eidg-Abstim_Kantone 2-sp

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Background Information on German Elections

As we wait for the results of the German elections, we are pleased to be able to provide some background on this election from Benjamin Preisler, who most recently obtained his second M.A. from the College of Europe and is now looking for new opportunities. He blogs and tweets.  We will have post-election reports in the coming days.


The outcome of the federal elections that took place in Germany today, September 22, had enthralled Europe for the better part of 2013. Clearly, some national elections have become continental issues as the attention paid to Greek or French elections in recent years had already hinted at. Little surprisingly, Merkel’s reigning CDU/CSU has won, yet much remains uncertain as to what kind of coalition will – or even can – govern Germany.

The setup of the Bundestag had remained remarkably stable following its inauguration in 1949. Apart from two small exceptions in 1949 and 1953, the same three parties (CDU/CSU, SPD & FDP) topped the necessary 5%-hurdle, split all seats amongst each other and determined the government – with the FDP oftentimes tipping the scales – all the way up to 1983.

This inertia (or stability) of the party system started eroding over time with the process of – relevant – new parties emerging taking place increasingly rapidly. In the 1980s the Greens became a fixture on the parliamentary scene providing the blueprint for a bipolar four-parties, two-camps opposition that culminated in Schröder’s red-green coalition. Following reunification the former state party of East Germany became the PDS and made its entry onto the parliamentary scene as a regional power, which it consolidated through a union in 2007 with a predominately West German protest movement (the WASG) that resulted in today’s Die Linke.

These four established parties are joined in these elections by the Pirates who in 2011-2012 garnered enough votes to make their entry into four state parliaments. Currently drawing most attention though is an absolute newcomer on the German political scene in the Euro(zone)-skeptic Alternative für Deutschland, which arose out of a conservative economist-heavy backlash against the Merkel government’s supposedly failed policies in the framework of the eurocrisis.

From a stable three party system, Germany has thus moved to a volatile four to seven party whirlwind. As the exit polls beneath make clear, a parliament that currently seemingly consists of four parties could feasibly have either five or six at any point during this night.

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2013 Austrian Parliamentary Elections: Pre-Election Report

The Austrian Voter

We are please to continue our series of Election Reports with the following pre-election report on the September 29, 2013 Austrian parliamentary elections by political scientists Sylvia Kritzinger, Michael Lewis-Beck, and Eva Zeglovits, three of the authors of The Austrian Voter.


On September 29, Austrian citizens will vote in the National Council elections. It is their first such vote since the extension of the legislative period from four to five years. Further, the two government parties, SPÖ and ÖVP, have not had to fight any regional or local elections for over two years. Though such a honeymoon period is rather unique, the government failed to make decisions over necessary reforms resulting in a standstill in most policy areas (pensions, higher education, the health system, etc.). Most importantly, new parties have entered the political scene, confronting the two ‘old’ mainstream parties with decreasing electoral support.

Austria has been known for its relative stability, with the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) holding together more than 90% of the votes for decades.  Hence, current developments make this election particularly interesting. First, since 1986, the Greens and the radical right (FPÖ) have offered serious challenges to this duopoly. And the 2013 campaign remains particularly special, with more parties than ever poised to play a role in the distribution of the 183 National Council seats.

Most prominently, Austro-Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach and his newly founded party Team Stronach are running, and the Austrian National Elections Study (AUTNES) survey foresees that his party will obtain seats. Moreover, Team Stronach poses trouble for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) – a splinter party off the FPÖ, with popular Jörg Haider chairing it until his death in 2008. Stronach convinced some former BZÖ MPs to desert the BZÖ and form a parliamentary club for the Team Stronach. In all, these days there are six parties represented in the National Council, an all time high in Austrian politics.

Team Stronach also challenges the other radical right party in the Austrian National Council: the FPÖ. Team Stronach competes along similar electoral lines as the FPÖ: it is skeptical towards the European integration process, demands to leave the euro, and denounces the Austrian political system and its political class. In the past, the FPÖ ‘owned’ all these issues. Unlike the FPÖ though, Team Stronach does not tackle the issue of immigration, which was a major FPÖ issue in the last electoral campaign.

Finally, a new liberal party – the NEOS – also tries to capture the support from the center-right Austrian citizens. Unlike Team Stronach, however, it is far from certain whether the NEOS will pass the threshold of 4 per cent to gain a seat in the National Council. All in all, in this year’s election there is fierce competition on the right-hand side of the ideological political spectrum: 5 serious competitors are fighting for votes. The left-hand side of the ideological spectrum is emptier: only the Social Democrats and the Greens are serious contenders here.

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The Confusing State of US-Russian Relations

I was honored to be invited last week by the New American Foundation president Anne-Marie Slaughter to submit a contribution to her new Weekly Wonk Newsletter.  Here’s the first couple paragraphs of what I wrote:

It is hard to imagine a more interesting—and confusing—time to take stock of modern U.S.-Russian relations. My Twitter feed is currently ablaze with reports of the possibility that the #US will adopt the #Russia plan for solving the current #Syria crisis. At the same time, Vladimir Putin has just critiqued President Obama on the op-ed page of  The New York Times.  These seemingly unexpected and contradictory developments reflect the fact that there are two fundamental realities shaping the bilateral relationship today today: Russian domestic politics and the fact that both nations continue to have a series of shared and conflicting international interests.

First, the recent direction of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin in terms of the domestic political sphere is anathema to most of the values that the United States professes to support in its friends and allies: a free press, fair and competitive elections, civil rights for minorities, an independent judiciary, and so on. It seems that hardly more than a few weeks can go by without something happening in Russia that reminds American policymakers of how different the two regimes can be. The recent flight from the country of the distinguished economist Sergei Guriev and the trialconviction, and releaseof recent Moscow mayoral candidate and opposition leader Alexander Navalny are but two examples, as are recent laws against “homosexual propaganda.” This is not to say that the United States does not cooperate with foreign regimes that have less than stellar democratic records. At the same time, though, the post-Cold War history of U.S.-Russian relations has been filled repeatedly with the promise of Russia becoming “more democratic” and of potential “resets.” To the extent that this promise isn’t fulfilled, the relationship (rightly or wrongly) suffers.

Then there is Vladimir Putin’s standing in his own country. Putin has enjoyed periods of time, especially in the first decade of his presidency, when he was a genuinely popular leader. He gave Russians a flourishing economy, rising oil prices that helped the country escape from Western loans and IMF bailouts, and much needed stability after the Yeltsin years. Today, however, Putin is less popular.  Economic growth has slowed, and the Kremlin has done little to diversify their economy beyond extractive industries. The perception of corruption among the ruling elite is widespread.  The growing middle class in Russia has become disillusioned with the impunity of its self-enriching leaders, and the newest generation lacks the memory of why Putin was embraced in the first place.

All of these factors have added up to a situation where Putin II needs to reach farther to affirm his legitimacy than Putin I ever did. And one way Putin has been doing this, borrowing from a familiar theme in Russian political rhetoric that reached its height during the Cold War years, is by casting himself as a defender of Russian values against Western—particularly American—encroachment. It’s a rational strategy, but Putin also seems to take a certain glee in needling his U.S. “partners,” as evidenced most recently by his reactions to the Edward Snowden affair and his NY Times op-ed.  Scapegoating the West is an easy way out in difficult times, as evidenced by Putin’s rush to denounce protesters who took to the streets of Moscow following claims of fraud in the 2011 Russian parliamentary elections as being instruments of “foreign agents”. And as long as Putin and his surrounding ruling elite are running the show in Russia, U.S.-Russian relations are going to face an uphill struggle.

The rest of the piece can be found on the Weekly Wonk’s website here, or, if you prefer, at Time Magazine here.  And for those of you who want even more on US-Russia relations, I also appeared on the Weekly Wonk’s new podcast to discuss the topic; I come in around the 13th minute.

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Call For Election Report Contributors, and an Update on Disciplinary News at TMC after the move to the Washington Post

So a quick addendum to some earlier discussions about the role The Monkey Cage can play in the future in terms of providing news about events and developments in the discipline. For now, we are being encouraged to continue doing this, which is kind of turn-about from what we originally reported. So for those of you who lamented the loss of this feature at The Monkey Cage, hopefully this will be a welcome development. We’ll have to feel our way through it, but for now you can still expect to be able to see some of these announcements and discussion at The Monkey Cage after our move to the Post.

Still, I wanted to issue one of my occasional calls for contributors to our Election Reports series before the move. The goal of this series is to give social scientists with an indepth knowledge of particular elections a chance to write something about those elections that is more than just a quote in a newspaper article but appears more quickly than the 1-3 years it often takes for an academic article to be published. The larger goal was to try to train journalists to know that they could come to The Monkey Cage in the immediate aftermath of elections for research-informed commentary on elections. My other hope was that these reports could serve as a good source of information for people trying to code recent elections as part of more broadly comparative work (or simply to quickly bring themselves up to date on the politics in a country about which they did not already know much).

By now we’ve had quite a lot of reports appear in the series, and I’ve been very pleased with the overall quality. However, this whole enterprise depends on people volunteering to write these reports (although we now also have a nice pipeline from people writing “Notes on Recent Elections” at Electoral Studies). So with that in mind, here’s a list of upcoming elections through the end of the year. If you are interested in writing a report on any of these, please drop me a line directly at joshua dot tucker at nyu dot edu:

  • Rwanda Parliamentary September 16, 2013

  • Germany Parliamentary September 22, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum September 22, 2013

  • Guinea Legislative September 24, 2013

  • Austria Legislative September 29, 2013

  • Cameroon Legislative September 30, 2013

  • Ireland Referendum October 4, 2013

  • Ethiopia Presidential October 8, 2013

  • Azerbaijan Presidential October 9, 2013

  • Yemen Referendum October 15, 2013

  • Luxembourg Parliamentary (Moved up) October 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential First Round (Tentative) October 25, 2013

  • Czech Republic Parliamentary October 25, 2013

  • Georgia Presidential October 27, 2013

  • Argentina Legislative October 27, 2013

  • Tajikistan Presidential November 6, 2013

  • Chile Presidential First Round November 17, 2013

  • Chile Legislative November 17, 2013

  • Nepal Legislative (Tentative) November 19, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary First Round November 23, 2013

  • Honduras Presidential November 24, 2013

  • Honduras Legislative November 24, 2013

  • Switzerland Referendum November 24, 2013

  • Mauritania Parliamentary Second Round December 7, 2013

  • Chile Presidential Second Round December 15, 2013

  • Turkmenistan Parliamentary December 15, 2013

  • Madagascar Presidential Second Round (Tentative) December 20, 2013

  • Madagascar Parliamentary (Tentative) December 20, 2013

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Syria vs. Cyrus Redux

Readers of the blog may remember that last week as part of a Twitter discussion with Larry Sabato on how much American public opinion on Syria really mattered, I decided to look at some Google Trends data comparing searches for Syria and Miley Cyrus.  I took a bit of pounding from our readers on the use of Google Trends data to do this, but it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who had the idea to compare the two. Political scientists  and  writing in the Huffington Post compared media coverage of the two and Google Trends data. Their findings:

The odd coupling of these two sensational stories presents a relatively rare, real-time opportunity to assess two popular and closely related conventional wisdoms about the American media and public. The first holds that in their media consumption, Americans prefer entertainment over public policy; sensationalism over substance; and sex over, well, just about anything. The second holds that in order to attract consumers, market-driven media routinely under-report or ignore important issues of public policy—abdicating their responsibility to serve as a watchdog of government—in favor of serving up the steady diet of cotton candy that they believe the public wants. As it turns out, reality is less clear-cut than conventional wisdom. According to Google News, in the week starting August 25 the Syria-to-Cyrus ratio—the number of print and online stories about Syria relative to those about Miley Cyrus—was about 5.5 to 1. That is, there was about 5.5 times more coverage of Syria than of Cyrus. According to LexisNexis, TV news—specifically, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, and NBC —had a somewhat lower Syria-to-Cyrus ratio of about 3 to 1 (351 vs. 112 stories), while major newspapers—New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post—had a much higher ratio of about 11 to 1 (252 vs. 23 stories). These outlets varied widely in their coverage, and there clearly was no shortage of news about Cyrus’s derriere. Yet, on balance, news coverage focused far more on what people arguablyneeded to know than on what—per conventional wisdom—they wanted to know.


Even with the predominance of media coverage about Syria over Cyrus last week, the Syria-to-Cyrus ratio for Americans’ Google searches was almost the inverse of the Google News ratio: about 1 to 6, or six times more searches for news about Miley Cyrus than about Syria. Score one for the conventional wisdom.

Yet public opinion data suggests that perhaps there were fewer searches for Syria because there was already a lot known about Syria:

A recent NBC News poll (8/28-8/29) shows almost 80% of the public saying that it has heard “some” or “a lot” of news about Syria’s supposed chemical weapons use. While self-reports can be somewhat inflated, the near-80% figure is the fourth highest out of 16 high-profile issues for which NBC has asked the identical question over the past two years.

If that’s not enough for you, Jake Leavy at Buzzfeed put together a whole spread of graphics comparing the two using Facebook’s New Keyword’s Insights API. I would gladly have analyzed some of this data myself – providing Facebook much needed added publicity – but alas, for now the tool is only being rolled out to selected media partners at the moment (hint, hint…).

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Threats and Credibility: How Obama’s Decision to Seek Congressional Authorization for Syria May Have Been a Game Changer

The following is a guest post from University of Wisconsin-Madison Ph.D candidate in political science Roseanne McManus.


In August 2012 and March 2013, President Obama referred to the use of chemical weapons by Syria as a “red line” and a “game changer.”  The evidence appears to indicate that Syria disregarded these warnings, using chemical weapons on a small scale in March 2013 and on a larger scale in August 2013.  However, now Syria has expressed at least initial willingness to give up its chemical weapons.  My research on the conditions for effectiveness of statements of resolve sheds light on the reasons for this change.  Specifically, it suggests that Obama’s threats have recently become more effective because seeking approval from Congress has resulted in a greater observable ability to follow through on them.

A fair amount of political science research has already been devoted to the question of how tough statements can effectively convey resolve to adversaries, despite the incentives for leaders to exaggerate their resolve.  The most prevalent current theories suggest that it is the costs of backing down from resolved statements that prevent leaders from making statements too casually and thus render statements more credible.  These costs might include damage to a leader’s or nation’s international reputation or a decline in the leader’s domestic support.

Clearly, these types of costs exist in the Syria case.  Obama was hammered in the media and by other politicians for his weak response to Syria’s first use of chemical weapons.  Many of Obama’s critics explicitly mentioned the loss of US credibility as a cost of Obama’s inaction.  The fact that backing down from his statements would be domestically and internationally costly for Obama should have been obvious to Syria from the outset.  Yet, Syria did not heed Obama’s warnings.  This suggests that we need to bring other factors into our analysis.

My research, available here, shows that factors related to the costs of backing down are rather poor predictors of whether statements of resolve will be effective at influencing the outcome of international disputes.  Much better predictors are factors related to whether a leader has the observable ability to follow through on statements.  While many theories tend to take a leader’s ability to follow through on statements for granted, I argue that there can be substantial risks and obstacles to following through, such as domestic actors who can block or forestall action (known in political science as veto players) or the danger of domestic backlash if a conflict goes poorly.  Therefore, statements of resolve will only be effective if adversaries can observe that a leader has the ability to overcome these risks and obstacles.  My statistical analysis shows that US presidential statements of resolve have a greater influence on dispute outcomes when the president has a greater ability to follow through on his statements due to a secure political position and/or hawkish domestic veto players.

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Why a Strategy of Deterring Weak Leaders from Using Chemical Weapons Means the US Should Attack Syria Even if it Strengthens Assad


The following is a guest post from my NYU colleague political scientist Peter Rosendorff.


The Senate is struggling to draft a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria, and has announced a delay in the vote originally scheduled for Wednesday in order to permit the revived diplomatic process to potentially succeed. Presidents Putin and Obama are suddenly on the same page with respect to the elimination of Assad’s chemical weapons, and Syria may be going along with the initiative for now, probably to delay and dissemble.

The US Congress, following President Obama’s lead, is likely to eventually authorize the use of force, most likely in a contingent fashion whereby force will be authorized in the instance that the Russian initiative fails.

The US has to do something it doesn’t want to do: to deter future abusers of chemical weapons in other weak and fragile states, the US will probably authorize an attack on Syria. But an attack, paradoxically, will have the unintended and unavoidable consequence of strengthening Bashar al-Assad’s grip on power. However, it turns out to be the case that in order for deterrence to work, the US must sometimes strengthen strong dictators to deter the weak.

The authorization for the attack will require it be calibrated so as to damage the capacity for future chemical weapons deployment by the Assad regime, but not to alter the balance of power in the Syrian civil war. US policy has been to draw Iran and Hezbollah into a long, resource dissipating civil war, reducing their capacity to target the US and its assets abroad.  Any punitive action must also avoid strengthening the rebel opposition for fear of generating a “failed-state” scenario and engineering a safe haven for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Some have called this the “goldilocks” strategy – hit Assad not too hard and not too soft. Just right. (By the way, this is Russia’s primary concern as well – to ensure that a failed-state Syria does not end up emboldening Russia’s opponents in Central Asia, especially if Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile was to fall into rebel hands).

But any attack on Assad that leaves him in power actually strengthens his grip. He has thumbed his nose at the international community by violating a strong norm against the use of chemical weapons, especially against unarmed civilians.  By crossing Obama’s red line, he shows his opposition that he can withstand the wrath of the West, and the US in particular. And hence he can withstand the puny (by comparison) attacks by the rebel forces.  He signals his intent not to leave, not to negotiate and not to concede.

This would lead a calculating US to consider no attack at all.  No attack leads to the continued stalemate that is the Syrian civil war, and a continuation of current foreign policy. No attack upholds the current status quo with respect to the crisis, which arguably is the US’s preferred (all realities considered) approach (at an incredible toll in lives lost).

But the US will authorize an attack. And they must do so because they are engaged in another game of geopolitics with all the potential chemical weapons users and rogue states with domestic political crises readying to boil over – Iran and North Korea, among others.  The US commitment to enforce the international norm against chemical weapons must be followed through to deter these rogue states.

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Additional Commentary on Moscow Mayoral Elections

University of North Carolina political scientist Graeme Robertson and Kings College London political scientist Samuel Greene:

From the government’s standpoint, the regional and local elections held Sunday in Russia were primarily about getting a ‘convincing’ victory – convincing the ruling elite that President Vladimir Putin’s imprimatur can still carry an election in the boisterous capital, convincing the public that Putin is still in charge, convincing the opposition that their cause is futile, and convincing himself that his political machine still functions. Did it work?

Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption activist convicted of embezzlement (on what many believe to be flimsy grounds) just before he stood for mayor of Moscow, garnered some 27% of the vote – more than many thought he could, but not enough to force the incumbent, Sergei Sobyanin, into a runoff. On the other hand, Sobyanin avoided that runoff with only the slimmest of margins, at 51.37%, which is likely to be questioned when vote tallies can be scrutinized more carefully. Moreover, Putin’s United Russia party lost elections in two major cities – Ekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk – where opposition candidates with strong local backing overcame the country’s most powerful political machine. The Kremlin’s victory, then, was less than resounding.

How all of this looks from the confines of the Kremlin will begin to become clear tomorrow, when Navalny’s appeal against his embezzlement conviction gets its first hearing in court. Whether Navalny goes to jail will be a reflection of how soundly the Kremlin thinks it can sleep without its most prominent opponent behind bars. Former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, due to be released in the spring unless a rumored third trial goes forward, will be watching carefully from his prison cell, as will 12 mostly young men and women arrested for taking part in a protest that turned violent on May 6, 2012.

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Moscow Mayoral Election: The Risks of Using “Relatively” Free Elections to Gain Legitimacy

The following is a guest post from Columbia University political scientist Timothy Frye, Director of the Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies.


Elections – even biased ones—are funny things. Going into the Moscow Mayoral election on Sunday, the conventional wisdom saw the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin easily winning a majority in the first round. Meanwhile, his main opponent, anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny languished in the high teens in the polls. However with 94% of the vote counted, Sobyanin is sweating out a first round victory with a 51.2% of the vote, while Navalny beat expectations and earned 27.4 percent. A race this close could in principle spark a recount and perhaps a second round of voting, although even a remote possibility of turning the second most important Executive position in Russia to the opposition suggests that the authorities will find a way to prevent another round of voting.

One fascinating aspect of this election was Sergei Sobyanin’s attempts to use “relatively” freer elections to gain greater legitimacy even within Russia’s autocratic political system. Sure, he took advantage of all the benefits of incumbency, enjoyed massive television exposure, reportedly pressured state workers to vote, gained from absentee ballots etc., but the incumbent seems to have relied far less on the crude ballot falsifications that marred the Parliamentary elections of 2011. And it is widely reported that Sobyanin favored allowing Navalny to run in the Mayoral race even though he was recently sentenced to 5 years in jail for embezzlement – charges that many view as politically motivated. Free on appeal, Navalny conducted the campaign in full knowledge that he could be sent to prison at any moment. Although he could have run against “loyal” opposition figures from Kremlin-friendly parties, Sobyanin apparently favored the harder, but potentially more rewarding path, of running against a “disloyal” opposition candidate in Navalny.

Sobyanin, who was thought to be generally popular in Moscow, a city that has prospered in recent years, likely thought that he could coast to victory against an inexperienced candidate with little organization in a very short campaign without relying on the most crude forms of falsification. Earning an easy victory in an election against a “real” opposition figure could have greatly increased Sobyanin’s standing – perhaps even as a potential successor to President Putin. Yet in squeaking by with just over 51% of the vote, Sobyanin returns to office diminished. Navalny, on the other hand, may end up in jail but by beating expectations he cemented his position as a leader of the opposition. These are the risks of using “relatively” free elections to gain legitimacy in an autocratic system where outcomes are not easy to predict.

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