As protests unfold in electoral autocracies – regimes that combine authoritarian practices with multiparty elections – voters who previously supported the ruling regime are expected to shift and back the opposition. However, by looking at the case of Russia, Katerina Tertytchnaya discusses how anti-regime protests may, paradoxically, contribute to explain the resilience of autocracies. When opposition parties and activists fail to convince their citizens that political change is likely, protests may generate political disengagement among the masses which, in turn, helps authoritarian regimes to remain in place.
Between December 2011 and May 2012, and amid accusations of electoral fraud in the 2011 parliamentary election, a series of demonstrations, the largest since the collapse of the Soviet Union, took place across Russia. During this time, then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, standing as presidential candidate in the March 2012 election, was allegedly ‘angry, nervous and frightened’. Drawing parallels with events in the Arab Spring that brought down rulers in the Middle East and North Africa, observers and journalists around the world described the protests as Russia’s ‘white, or snow revolution’. After all, this was the first time in many years that parliamentary and on-parliamentary oppositions united together in the streets. Initial optimism, however, did not last, as the leadership of parliamentary parties – such as that of the KPRF and Just Russia – as well as the protesters, left the streets. In the spring months of 2012 Vladimir Putin also saw his approval ratings recover. Russia’s ‘snow revolution’ melted quickly with the spring.