The Use and Abuse of 'Administrative Resources'

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The presidential administration has been set a far from simple task in the State Duma elections that take place this Sunday: to secure a qualified majority in the next parliament (at least 300 out of 450 seats) -- thus making it possible for the Kremlin to amend the Constitution and constitutional laws.

In the current Duma, the administration controls approximately 235 votes (including United Russia, the People's Party and various non-party admirers of President Vladimir Putin). This provides the Putin administration with a comfortable majority for passing normal legislation that the president and the government need adopted, including the budget. However, in order to amend a constitutional law (for example, the law on referendums, as was the case in the fall of 2002), the administration needs to buy the votes of Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party faction and come to an agreement with the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko.

However, getting Yabloko and SPS to support the annulment of the constitutional clause barring the president from running for more than two consecutive terms would be problematic.

And it is clear that United Russia (even if the most optimistic forecasts come true) will not receive more than 35 percent of the party-list vote -- and probably significantly less. Gennady Raikov's People's Party and other smaller "puppet parties" of the presidential administration are not going to get over the 5 percent hurdle. Consequently, in order to achieve the overall target set, it is crucial to ensure a landslide for pro-presidential candidates in single-mandate constituencies.

As usual, at this juncture, so-called administrative resources, in their various guises, come to the fore. There are relatively "clean" forms of administrative resources (or advantages resulting from incumbency) -- for example, preferential access to state-controlled television for favored candidates; the free use of ministerial airplanes by United Russia leaders Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Shoigu for campaigning across the country; pre-election pension increases; and the use or abuse of one's official position for campaign purposes.

Although the latter is prohibited by law, the law is formulated in a way that lends itself to selective application. If the president campaigns for United Russia, then it is his legal right as a citizen to express his opinion. If an official aide to an opposition deputy works on his deputy's election campaign, then that deputy is illegally making use of his official position. However, if a deputy from a pro-presidential party employs his aide in exactly the same capacity, then the legality or illegality of this is simply not an issue.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov's adviser Konstantin Zatulin is running as a United Russia candidate in Moscow's Orekhovo-Borisovo constituency (No. 197). For the majority of candidates from "Luzhkov's team," Duma seats are guaranteed thanks to the mayor's personal popularity. But Zatulin is a candidate with a bad "credit history." In the late 1980s, he de facto headed the network of political surveillance in Moscow State University. Thirteen years ago, the denunciations sent to Zatulin by university informers were published for the first time. Since then, they have been re-published by Zatulin's opponents during every election in which he has run.

In order to ensure victory for such a problematic candidate, City Hall has undertaken unprecedented measures. Luzhkov sent a special order to Yury Biryukov, prefect in Moscow's southern administrative district (where constituency No. 197 is located), which reads as follows: "Recently a lot has been done in the southern administrative district making every rayon, every yard and every house more comfortable for Muscovites to live in. For better and more effective coordination, I am sending Konstantin Fyodorovich Zatulin, adviser to the Moscow mayor, to the southern administrative district. He will be in constant contact with the local authorities and the relevant agencies of the Moscow government to provide assistance in resolving citizens' problems and addressing their concerns."

Now try not to vote for a candidate whose responsibility is to provide assistance in addressing citizens' concerns. As for prefect Biryukov -- I am sure he understands he has effectively been ordered to give the green light for the Moscow mayor's favorite.

However, of late the most popular application of administrative resources has been the exclusion of undesirable election candidates on various technicalities.

There are dozens of instances of obstacles being placed in the way of candidates' registration or candidates having their registration annulled. Sometimes this is simply the result of a struggle between candidates who attempt to get one another excluded with the assistance of the courts and electoral commissions (in such cases the Central Elections Commission can even demonstrate impartiality and reinstate the excluded candidate). Sometimes the initiative comes from the regional or local authorities which are seeking to remove their their opponents (in such cases, Moscow can either reinstate or not reinstate the candidate depending on the political exigency). However, sometimes the command to remove a candidate comes directly from the Kremlin, and in such cases any attempt to appeal the ruling is futile.

Below are some of the most scandalous cases of the application of this kind of administrative resource. In constituency No. 9 in Buryatia, former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov has been refused registration. This is the same Skuratov, about whom then FSB director Putin identified as the man caught in a compromising position with prostitutes in an infamous video tape aired on state television. The pretext for not registering Skuratov was absurd: He had concealed from voters his professorial post. The CEC has upheld the ruling. In addition to his exclusion from running in the single-mandate contest, Skuratov has been barred from running on the Communist Party list. The "impartial" Supreme Court has agreed with the ruling.

In the Kursk region, former Kursk Governor Alexander Rutskoi has been taken out of the single-mandate contest in constituency No. 97 (in 2000, Rutskoi, the favorite in the Kursk gubernatorial election, was excluded from running by a court ruling one day before the election).

In Nizhny Novgorod (constituency No. 120), Andrei Klimentyev had his registration annulled due to forged signatures. Klimentyev was previously excluded from running in the Nizhny Novgorod mayoral election and prior to that was even stripped of his mayoral election victory and sent to prison.

In the Tyumen region (constituency No. 179), in order to clear the way for People's Party leader Raikov to get into the Duma, his two main rivals in the single-mandate contest -- Communist candidate Alexander Cherepanov and Union of Right Forces candidate Vadim Bondar -- have been refused registration. The pretext was the same in both cases: the involvement of their official aides in their election campaigns. In response to this, the two candidates have created a regional bloc "Against All Candidates."

In the 1999 Duma elections, "Against All Candidates" won in eight single-mandate districts; and in the majority of these, popular candidates had been removed from the contest on technicalities.

In St.Petersburg, the local electoral commission, in order to please candidate Gennady Yudin (the deputy who requested that the prosecutor's office examine Yukos' economic crimes), canceled the registration of independent candidate and former political prisoner Yuly Rybakov (in constituency No. 206), who is supported by Yabloko. In this particular instance, the CEC took Rybakov's side.

Another example of a local initiative failing to find support in Moscow was an attempt to refuse registration to Viktor Cherepkov in Vladivostok (district No. 52). The CEC remembers all too well that when Cherepkov is excluded from running, "Against All Candidates" tends to win.

As a last resort, election commissions can always engage in direct falsification of results. Perhaps, there will be reason to talk about such behavior after Sunday.

Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.