“Many will be surprised to hear it, but there are still elections ,”
— Alexey Navalny commentary from prison, August 21, 2023.
Russia’s 2023 elections were the largest regional elections in the country’s five-year cycle. Yet, for many Russian citizens, these elections went almost unnoticed. Putin’s regime tried to divert public attention away, neutralizing ordinary voters and mobilizing their core electorate.
According to the voters rights movement Voice, these elections were even less free and fair than those in the previous electoral cycle. Coordinated nationwide propaganda, censorship, suppression of dissent, and brazen misuse of administrative resources to coerce voters to support the United Russia party have been documented.
Nevertheless, there were still opposition candidates fighting for a role in Russian politics, for an opportunity to improve their cities and regions, and convey democratic values to voters. NGO projects providing support to candidates, observers, and voters continue to operate. Coalitions are being formed and evolving, organizing politicians with different viewpoints around common goals and tasks.
In this brief, we examine the recent elections; identify those which were tightly managed and those which remained fairly competitive; describe the voting process administered in the illegally occupied territories of Ukraine; and ways in which the war has impacted pre-election campaigns.
We assess the agendas and strategies of opposition candidates, and the monitoring efforts. As part of this report, we also attempt to forecast ways in which these elections are setting the stage for the presidential elections in March 2024.
Authors: S. Ross, E. Dorrer, Vitaly Bovar, Artem, Anna, Alexandr, Vladimir.