Navalny’s Gamesters: Protest, Opposition Innovation, and Authoritarian Stability in Russia

In: Russian Politics
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  • 1 Indiana University
  • 2 Columbia University

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This paper explores the legacy of the For Fair Elections (ffe) protest movement in 2011–2012 for electoral competition in Russia. We argue that through strategic innovation, oppositions in authoritarian countries can challenge the autocratic state on multiple fronts by transferring resources from street protests to the electoral arena. Our empirical focus is on Alexei Navalny’s campaign for Moscow mayor in late summer 2013. The successful mass mobilization in the movement enabled the campaign to implement a model of electoral innovation based on ideational frames, resources, and tactics drawn from the protest movement. Voter response was stronger than expected, demonstrating the persistence of voter opposition in the face of genuine electoral choice. Relying on press reports, blogs, campaign materials and interviews with activists, we investigate the campaign’s strategy and show why it presented a particular challenge to the regime. Our conclusion underscores the state’s advantage in countering elite opposition innovation, but also highlights how effective opposition innovation can lead to significant changes in strategies to maintain regime stability.

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