– Look, I am going to repeat myself: there is only one person whose participation in the election could change its outcome, and this person is Alexei Navalny. We know it, people know it, Navalny himself knows it, and so do our admirable political managers; basically, it is not a debatable issue because it is clear to everyone. Why could his participation change the situation? Because he is capable of making it to the second round of the election. Deep down, everyone knows it, but no one quite phrases it this way, frankly speaking. Why so?
– It almost worked with Sobyanin.
– I think the case with Sobyanin is history. I think it actually worked because, when a current leader who is running for re-election barely passes the threshold of 51 percent, it means that he actually won 49 percent of votes, but was not brave enough to disclose this fact. Now that so many years have passed, I am quite convinced this is what happened at the Moscow mayoral election. So, what has determined the current status quo? Not some magical superpowers possessed by Navalny but the political structure he has developed, his organization – the system of regional headquarters. I would say it resembles a political party more than all our parties put together. This is why his participation could change the situation. This is why he will not run for president. The rest are technicalities, more or less. Will the election campaign enable this or that candidate to voice something that should have been voiced in public long ago, for instance, a disclosure of some sort or just the right words to say? After all, if we are to have an election campaign, it is probably better if the right words are said, not the wrong ones; it is good to have a candidate capable of using something close to normal human speech. Is it an important motive? Does it really matter? Not really. In fact, I would refrain from making long-term forecasts, as they say, because you are not a candidate until you are officially registered as such. We have a long way to go before it happens. Let us keep in mind our admirable electoral legislation, which requires that the potential candidate gather signatures or secure the support of one of the parties currently represented in the Duma. Once you have collected signatures, you turn them in and wait for their verification. For now, there is no telling what the outcome will be, as no one has been given any guarantees.
– We have a long way to go; it is true. Which brings us to the last question: could Ksenia Sobchak be a «Russian Trump,» who had been a marginal figure as well but eventually won the election?
– He won the primaries in his party. Most Russians, even researchers and political observers, struggle to wrap their heads around the American party system because it is built on two parties that have been in place for centuries, permeating all aspects of American public life, from schools and universities to all levels of political governance. We do not have anything of the sort. This was how Trump made his way into power – through his party. We are not going to get into the details of what happened on the party level; all I ask is to keep in mind that such parallels between our and their political systems are irrelevant. What your question really implies is whether our political system is truly as superficial and gamified as to allow any populist to emerge from out of nowhere and make use of his or her «beginner's luck,» collecting a few rogue votes that would have been wasted otherwise. Is it a possibility in our case? You know, electoral technologies are not my specialty, so I am not much of an expert in such matters. The only thing I can say for sure concerns a candidate who positions him- or herself as «against all,» saying things like «I am for those who are few,» «I am the voice of your resentment,» «I am not a candidate with a program; I am the voice of the voiceless,» «Vote for me if there is nothing you like,» or «Let us show how many of us don't like what's happening.» If such a candidate wins 20 or, say, 15 percent of votes, it is a tangible political fact that cannot be dismissed. Approaches to dealing with it may differ because the candidate in question cannot win so many votes to become a political figure; or at least, it is hard to imagine. Nevertheless, the gesture is not unlike sticking your tongue out at the system, although in a subtle way; it is a way of saying, «Look how many people are dissatisfied with the state of affairs!» On the other hand, there will be even more people who may choose to forgo the election altogether. Should we presume that all of them are dissatisfied as well? There is an opinion that non-attendance makes us a drop in the sea of non-attendees who avoid the election for a wide variety of reasons. It is not untrue. Yet still, coming to a polling station to vote for one of the registered candidates seems akin to immersing in the very system you want to protest against. You see, if the choice between the two options – considering change or dismissing it out of hand – can be made only by our political system, which does not take into account voters' opinions, substituting it with all sorts of imitations and games, I do not think there could be any winning tactics in such a situation.