Eurasia This Week: March 24, 2022

March 24, 2022

A weekly review of news and analysis of elections in Eurasia, usually posted on Thursdays and occasionally updated throughout the week. For a full electoral calendar and interactive map, click here.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) building. Members of Parliament have continued to meet in the building during Russia’s invasion. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Будівля ВРУ (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Upcoming Eurasia Elections

Russia Regional Elections (some regions): September 2022 (due)

Russia is due to hold regional and gubernatorial elections in some regions in September 2022 (because Russia staggers its regional elections, each year has some scheduled. 

Russian elections are neither free nor fair. Nonetheless, the opposition has been making some gains in recent regional elections, helped by opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Vote,” a campaign of tactical voting, in which they developed a list of candidates the best chance of beating Vladimir Putin’s United Russia.

Consequently, the Kremlin is waging a brutal crackdown on the opposition, including imprisoning Navalny. Candidates who have worked with Navalny or supported him were banned from the election. Only one genuine opposition party – the liberal Yabloko – was able to field candidates in last year’s Duma elections. Navalny himself is in prison and recently received an additional nine years on top of his prior two and a half year sentence. More

Rebecca Falconer and Oriana Gonzalez, Axios (March 22, 2022): Putin critic Alexei Navalny sentenced to nine years in prison

Sophie Pinkham, New York Times (March 17, 2022): ‘They’re Willing to Risk Ruining Their Lives.’ Putin’s War Is Driving Russians Out.

Victor Jack, Politico (March 15, 2022): Russian prosecutors demand 13 more years in prison for Alexei Navalny: Kremlin critic is already serving two-and-a-half year jail term.

Reuters (March 14, 2022): Putin signs law to allow online voting at elections across Russia

Alexander Osipovich, Wall Street Journal (March 11, 2022): Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Calls for More Antiwar Protests

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: By October 2023 and Presidential Election: By March 2024

Ukraine is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2023 and a presidential election in 2024.

In the last presidential vote, in 2019, actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko running on an anti-establishment platform. However, since then, the country’s traditional pro-Europe and pro-Moscow political forces have regained ground. Since the invasion, Ukrainians have rallied around Zelenskyy, but the United Kingdom and others have warned that Russia seeks to topple his government and install a pro-Moscow puppet regime.

Russia’s military aggression, which began in 2014, continues. Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. While Russia had perhaps expected that Ukraine’s government would collapse quickly, it has held. Moreover, the political opposition has largely rallied behind Zelenskyy, with former rivals Yulia Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko (recently released from prison) posing for photos with him. Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) has met in its chamber, with members singing the national anthem. All members of the Rada have remained in Ukraine, either to continue to carry out their legislative duties or to fight with the military.

Philip Bobbitt and Viola Gienger, Just Security (March 24, 2022): Putin’s Real Fear: Ukraine’s Constitutional Order

Al Jazeera (March 24, 2022): Zelenskyy urges protests to mark month of Russia’s war in Ukraine: Ukraine’s leader calls for global solidarity, says he expects ‘serious’ action from NATO and the West to end the month-long war.

Fernando Casal Bértoa and Zsolt Enyedi, Foreign Policy (March 21, 2022): Ukraine, Russia, and the Bear Hug of Authoritarianism: Of all the democracies that emerged in the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has suffered the most from Russian interference.

ITV (March 13, 2022): ‘We will give them hell’ vows Ukrainian MP training up to fight Russian troops

Past Eurasia Elections

Turkmenistan Snap Presidential Election: March 12, 2022

Turkmenistan – a highly repressive state that has never held free or fair elections and lacks a genuine political opposition – held a presidential election on March 12, 2022, nearly two yers early. The reason appears to be to cement dynastic succession, as the son of current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, ran and won in a landslide.

Eurasianet (March 22, 2022): Turkmenistan: Berdymukhamedov passes the mantle (and phone): The future shape of Sino-Turkmen cooperation is going to be one of Serdar Berdymukhamedov’s biggest challenges.

Catherine Putz, The Diplomat (March 16, 2022): A New Berdimuhamedov Will Soon Be Turkmenistan’s President: Although all indications are that Serdar intends to follow in his father’s footsteps, Turkmenistan is politically entering uncharted waters.

Pritsh Gupta, Observer Research Foundation (March 10, 2022): Turkmenistan’s presidential elections: No surprise in the offing

Belarus Constitutional Referendum: February 27, 2022

Belarus’s dictator, Alexander Lukashenko, held a constitutional referendum on February 27, 2022 as a way of extending his time in power (he has been president since 1994 – the first and only president of post-Soviet Belarus). The changes allow Lukashenko to remain in office until 2035 and scrap Belarus’s non-nuclear status. Belarus’s elections and political processes are neither free nor fair.

The country las held a presidential election on August 9, 2020. In a vote widely deemed not free and not fair, Lukashenko declared victory. However, the opposition declared that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya had in fact won. Hundreds of thousands of Belarusians have taken to the streets in protest to demand free and fair elections, even in the face of assault and arrest by security forces. Protests and political defiance continue. 

In addition, Russia staged troops in Belarus ahead of its invasion of Ukraine. More

Euractiv with AFP (March 23, 2022): Belarus opposition calls for tougher sanctions against ‘co-aggressor’ Lukashenko

Stefan Wolff and Anastasiya Bayok, The Conversation (March 23, 2022): Ukraine: the complex calculations that will decide whether Belarus enters the conflict on Russia’s side

Al Jazeera (March 17, 2022): UN calls for release of 1,000 political prisoners held in Belarus

AFP (March 17, 2022): Belarus’ future depends on Ukraine’s fate: Tsikhanouskaya

Tim Hume, Vice (March 15, 2022): How Russia Used the War in Ukraine to ‘Occupy’ Another Neighbouring Country: Belarus has been turned into a vassal state by the Kremlin during the Ukraine war by allowing soldiers and munitions to pass through it, Belarus’ opposition says.

Samuel Benson, Politico (March 15, 2022): U.S. sanctions Belarus president, more Russian officials

Belsat (March 15, 2022): New Constitution comes into force in Belarus

Georgia Local Elections: October 2 and 30, 2021

Georgia held local elections on October 2 and 30, 2021 in a tense political climate, exacerbated by the arrest of former president Mikheil Saakashvili upon his return to the country on the eve of the vote. Runoffs took place on October 30, including for the important role of mayor of Tbilisi, which the ruling Georgian Dream party failed to win in the first round. Ultimately, Georgian Dream did win the second round amid criticism from the opposition. 

A recent uptick in violence against the LGBT community and journalists, perpetrated by far-right and pro-Kremlin forces, has fueled the wider debate about where Georgia is going, both culturally and geopolitically.

The next parliamentary elections are due in October 2024, but snap elections could happen. More (March 23, 2022): CoE Congress on Georgian local elections: technically well-organised, marked by unlevel playing field

Will Cathcart, Foreign Policy (March 21, 2022): Georgia Threatens to Sue Its Own President Over Her Support for Ukraine

OC Media, Caucasus Datablog (March 15, 2022): Georgians want their government to support Ukraine

Amy Mackinnon, Foreign Policy (March 11, 2022): Georgia Walks a Fine Line After Ukraine Invasion: Tbilisi has its own history with Moscow. So why the cold shoulder to Ukraine this time?

Moldova Snap Parliamentary Elections: July 11, 2021

Moldova held snap parliamentary elections on July 11, which pro-Europe center-right president Maia Sandu had been trying to call for months because in Moldova’s parliamentary system, a legislative majority is necessary to execute on any policy agenda. Prior to these elections, party had a clear majority in parliament (and Sandu’s allies were outnumbered by pro-Russian parties), leading to political instability. Sandu’s allies ended up winning in a landslide.

Sandu herself trounced pro-Kremlin leftist Igor Dodon, who had been the incumbent, in the November 2020 presidential election, after losing narrowly to him in 2016.

Russia has ramped up its harassment Moldova following the victories of Sandu and her allies. Moreover, Russia instigated and continues to perpetuate a frozen conflict in Transnistria, where 1,400 Russian troops are stationed – an obstacle to Moldova’s integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. Additionally, Transnistria’s rampant organized crime and corruption threaten Moldova’s stability. Russia also stokes separatism in Gagauzia, a Turkic-speaking region of Moldova. More

Borzou Daragahi, The Independent (March 12, 2022): Moldova: A fractured, fragile former Soviet republic struggling to avoid being sucked into Putin’s Ukraine war

Kazakhstan Legislative Elections: January 10, 2021

Kazakhstan held legislative elections for January 10, 2021. The country’s elections take place in the context of an authoritarian system in which critics of the government face harassment and arrest. As such, no genuine opposition has representation in the legislature.

A series of protests in January 2022 rocked the country and left as many as 225 people dead, as well as a reported 12,000 people in detention. Russia briefly sent personnel under the auspices of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), its military alliance of several post-Soviet states. More

Farangis Najibullah, RFE/RL (March 18, 2022): Kazakh President Unlikely To Give Up Real Power Despite Pledging End To ‘Super-Presidency’

Catherine Putz, The Diplomat (March 16, 2022): Tokayev Outlines ‘New Kazakhstan’ in State of the Nation Address

Eurasia Elections Coming Up in 2022 and 2023

Russia Regional Elections (some regions): September 2022 (due)

Turkmenistan Parliamentary and Local Elections: March 2023 (due)

Moldova Local Elections: October 2023 (due)

Ukraine Parliamentary Elections: By October 29, 2023 (due)

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