Recent Trends in Regional Elections

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The recent elections in Nizhny Novgorod and Krasnoyarsk, for all their differences, exhibited one principle similarity: "Administrative resources" were split almost evenly between the main candidates.

In Nizhny, the administrative resources of then-Mayor Yury Lebedev and Volga Federal District presidential envoy Sergei Kiriyenko were evenly matched; while in Krasnoyarsk, acting Governor Nikolai Ashlapov, Taimyr Governor Alexander Khloponin and Krasnoyarsk Mayor Pyotr Pimashkov all had roughly equal resources.

Furthermore, in neither case did the Kremlin have a consolidated position. In Krasnoyarsk, each of the three main "court-oligarchic" groups had its own candidate. The "Family," headed by presidential chief of staff Alexander Voloshin, supported Krasnoyarsk regional legislature Speaker Alexander Uss; the "old St. Petersburgers," headed by Anatoly Chubais, backed Pimashkov, and the "new St. Petersburgers," headed by deputy head of the presidential administration, Viktor Ivanov, backed Khloponin. The presidential envoy to Siberia, Leonid Drachevsky, preserved neutrality up until the end -- which is unusual, as other polpredy have certainly not been averse to interfering in the regional elections in their jurisdictions.

In Nizhny, the "new St. Petersburgers" initially lobbied for Deputy Governor Yury Sentyurin (a chekist and protege of Nizhny Governor Gennady Khodyrev) and then switched their support to Vadim Bulavinov; the Family had no distinct preferences because it was split between Bulavinov (a Kiriyenko protege) and Lebedev. Khodyrev, who was let down by his own protege Sentyurin, publicly stated that he was going to vote "against all candidates." Thus both contests were marked by a battle of administrative resources, although in Krasnoyarsk -- in addition -- two financial-industrial groups were fighting it out: RusAl with MDM against Interros).

Administrative resources can be broken down into more or less "clean" and "dirty" resources. Clean resources are the natural advantages of a big boss over an ordinary candidate -- e.g. greater opportunities for self-promotion and generally better funding.

Dirty resources include the ability to obstruct the registration of a rival candidate and/or exclude a candidate from running -- this is called "Bashkir electoral technology" in honor of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, who has perfected these techniques in Bashkortostan. Following President Vladimir Putin's ascent to power, these techniques have been applied across the country, most notoriously in Kursk gubernatorial election in 2000; the Sochi mayoral election and Rostov gubernatorial election in 2001; and the Ingush presidential election and Nizhny mayoral election in 2002. Also State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov has been on the receiving end of these techniques on several occasions in Primorye in gubernatorial and mayoral elections. Second, ballot-stuffing and spoiling can be used, as can direct falsification during vote-counting and protocol compilation.

When the "party of power" is united and the competition is weak, there is no great need to resort to dirty campaign methods. However, in both Krasnoyarsk and Nizhny, the authorities were divided and the competition was strong. Under these circumstances, the "dirty" component of administrative resources came to the fore.

In Nizhny, on the eve of the first round of elections, candidate Andrei Klimentyev was excluded from the race by a court ruling -- the handiwork of Kiriyenko (who had, prior to that, persuaded two other candidates, including Sentyurin, to drop out in favor of Bulavinov).

In Krasnoyarsk in the first round, administrative vote-counting methods were brought to bear against the Communist-backed candidate Sergei Glazyev. Also, ballot-stuffing and spoiling techniques were employed in Norilsk and Taimyr in favor of Khloponin, and in the southern parts of Krasnoyarsk in favor of Uss.

It would seem that there was more blatant falsification in favor of Khloponin, due to the small number of Uss and Glazyev election observers in the north. However, initially, the regional election commission controlled by Uss sympathizers did not respond, as it hoped that Uss would receive a good portion of the votes cast for Glazyev and Pimashkov in the first round. This didn't happen, and as a result the election commission became more attentive to falsification in the north after the second round,.

In the end, the Krasnoyarsk contest was resolved by Putin: The president appointed Khloponin as acting governor, although the manner in which he did this is highly questionable from a legal standpoint (according to the law, he could only appoint the first deputy governor, i.e. Ashlapov, or he had to first remove Ashlapov and then appoint Khloponin as first deputy governor). Only this clear demonstration of the president's sympathies was sufficient to persuade the regional election commission to back down.

In Nizhny, the president's position was also a determining factor. Putin had expressed dissatisfaction with a pilot project to introduce alternative, nonmilitary service in Nizhny in the spring. Back then, Putin said that Lebedev had "no chance of being re-elected" because his popularity rating was so low. Following this, Kiriyenko clearly felt obliged to ensure that the president's prediction became reality.

However, there is strong evidence that after Klimentyev was excluded, more votes were cast in the first round "against all candidates" than for any candidate. This is corroborated by the results of an unofficial exit poll and by the fact that officially the total number of ballots cast "against all candidates" plus spoiled ballot papers was greater than the number of votes for Bulavinov or Lebedev. The exit poll conducted in the second round also registered a victory for "against all candidates."

Voting "against all candidates" is becoming more and more popular in Russia -- particularly in those elections in which the authorities exclude "unacceptable" candidates. In the Rostov gubernatorial election in September 2001, incumbent Governor Vladimir Chub had his main rival, the Communist-backed Leonid Ivanchenko, excluded and as a result more than 12 percent of ballots were cast "against all candidates." In Sochi, in the mayoral election in April and May 2001, after the favorite Vadim Boiko was excluded, 27 percent voted "against all candidates" in the first round, and 15.6 percent in the second round.

In the December 1999 State Duma elections, "against all candidates" prevailed in eight single-mandate constituencies. Similar things happened in mayoral elections in Serpukhov (Moscow region) and Sosnovy Bor (Leningrad region), when excluded candidates called on voters to vote "against all candidates."

There will, undoubtedly, be many more such cases. The new election law de facto forbids campaigning for "against all candidates" (one can only campaign using money from the campaign fund of a specific candidate or party list, and "against all candidates" cannot have a campaign fund).

The presidential election in Kalmykia this weekend will be the last to be conducted under the old election law. After that, all elections will be held in accordance with the new law on voting rights. In some respects, the new law is an improvement on the old one.

In particular, only the courts will be able to exclude candidates and, in any case, no later than five days before the election is held -- and there will now be a finite number of grounds for excluding candidates.

Furthermore, within three months of an election, election commissions will be obliged to publish in the press and on the Internet the full results of any federal or regional election, containing data broken down by individual polling station.

In theory, this reduces the potential for falsification during the compiling of voting data at the level of territorial commissions (this is the level at which total falsification of results occurred in Dagestan in the 2000 presidential election, for example).

However, in other ways the new law is worse than the old one -- in particular with regard to the rules for campaigning. Moreover, under the new law, the media must cover the activities of all candidates equally -- which is physically impossible. And finally, the new law leaves open a loophole for falsifiers: It does not oblige election commissions to give out to observers copies of photocopies of voting protocols in a centralized manner.

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