Yesterday, the votes were counted in the first Moscow mayoral election in a decade.
Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin was reelected with 51.37% of the vote (roughly 1.2 million votes). The runner-up was Alexei Navalny, who finished a whopping 24.13 points behind Sobyanin (collecting roughly 630,000 votes), who in turn nearly doubled Navalny’s vote total. It was an absolute blowout, and Echo of Moscow radio declared it the cleanest Russian election in history so the issue of cheating by Sobyanin was off the table.
The only bright spot for Navalny was that just days before the election the Levada polling agency had pegged his support at 18%. He got roughly the same number of votes as Levada predicted, but his share of the total was much larger because, shockingly, Sobyanin did a disgraceful job of getting his voters to the polling place. Levada had shown Sobyanin with a dominant 60% share of the vote, but apparently overconfident and lazy Sobyanin’s forces sat back and let a big chunk of their support sit out the election. But Navalny still ended up more than 30,000 votes short of forcing Sobyanin into a runoff.
And this bright spot was more than overshadowed by the astounding fact that two-thirds of Moscow voters (there are roughly 7.25 million of them) did likewise, simply ignoring what Navalny had claimed was the most important election in Russian history. The world got the clear message that Russians simply don’t care about reform or change even as Putin pushes the Russian economy into a double-dip recession. It was one of the most depressing moments of recent Russian history. Moreover, as we previously reported Levada’s polling revealed the astounding fact that far more Muscovites said the would never, ever vote for Navalny than said they might do so. His negatives were far higher than his support. The notion that, as Navalny had repeatedly claimed, Moscow stood behind him and would show it given a fair chance, was absolutely blown to smithereens.
The utterly depressing voter turnout was made worse by absolutely godawful reporting from much of the Western press.
The Financial Times called Sobyanin’s win “narrow” and Fox News called it “close.” Narrow? Close? The actual fact was that Sobyanin won in a massive landslide, collecting twice as many votes as his nearest rival. Granted, Sobyanin was “close” to being forced into a second-round runoff with Navalny, but in such a runoff election he would have utterly crushed Navalny, not least because of the wake-up call about mobilizing his support.
The headline on the article from the New York Times was that Navalny “says he can force runoff.” The entire lead paragraph is devoted to libelous speculation that the result might have been rigged simply because Navalny, who never reached 20% in the pre-election polls, did not win. Navalny’s only “evidence” of fraud was the his own campaign’s exit polls showed him getting 7 points more support than he was allocated and Sobyanin five points less. The NYT falsely claims that Navalny “defied expectations” when in fact he did no such thing. Expectations were defied, and brutally disappointed, by the voters of Moscow who sat home in droves, clearly showing they could not care less who rules Moscow. There is zero evidence that Navalny got significantly more people to vote for him than pre-election polls indicated would do so.
But the most disgraceful reporting of all came from the Guardian in a perfectly wretched piece of garbage from Alex Luhn. We’re not surprised by this, since the Guardian is the publisher of Miriam Elder, one of the worst Russia correspondents in the history of journalism. The Guardian claimed that Vladimir Putin, who wasn’t even a candidate in the race, had got his “nose bloodied” by Navalny. It touted Navalny’s statement that the results had been falsified while totally ignoring the fact that nearly every Russian source said that the poll was mostly clean, and likewise ignoring the fact that the Kremlin had actively assisted Navalny in getting on the ballot in the first place. It completely ignore the pathetic level of voter turnout, which meant that in the end a mere 7.5% of all Moscow voters had gone to the polls to support Navalny. And it ignored the fact that everywhere across the country Putin’s party of power prevailed, except in Ekaterinburg where for a second time the elected mayor is an opposition figure, clearly showing that it is possible for the right opposition candidate to prevail. Interestingly, the opposition candidate in E-burg did not come close to getting a majority but will take office anyway, because there is no requirement of getting a majority in E-burg. So the standard Navalny wants to impose in Moscow would block the opposition victory in E-burg.
The type of repulsive, nauseating journalistic cheerleading engaged in by the Guardian and other so-called journalists who actively rooted for Navalny, urging him on and ignoring Navalny’s egregious faults (as we previously reported, AFP’s Maria Antonova was a noteworthy exception, highlighting Navalny’s blatant racism), hardly sets the right standard for Russian journalists to emulate and does the opposition movement no favors. Navalny is a very weak candidate and a very weak leader, who has clearly shown he can’t motivate large number of Russians to join him in his crusade against Putin. Better reporting might have encouraged a better candidate to come forward. The opposition has instead squandered its best chance to actually influence politics in Russian capital.
For the third time, Navalny has failed to alter the results of a Russian election as he promised. First Navalny promised he would force a second Duma vote, and it didn’t happen. Then he swore he’d force Putin into a second presidential vote, but that didn’t happen either. And now his promise of actually winning the Moscow mayoral ballot, or at least forcing the incumbent into a runoff, has exploded in his face as well.
Three strikes and you’re out, Mr. Navalny.