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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Churov Easily Elected Elections Chief

Itar-TassVladimir Churov voting during the election of the new chairman on Tuesday.
President Vladimir Putin's former subordinate, Vladimir Churov, was easily elected head of the Central Elections Commission on Tuesday, replacing long-serving chairman Alexander Veshnyakov.

Churov was the only candidate nominated for the post, the importance of which has only increased ahead of December's State Duma elections and the March 2008 presidential election.

With about 100 election officials from all over the country crammed into the hall at commission headquarters, the commission's 15 members elected Churov 13-2 with no abstentions.

Churov, who in the early 1990s worked in the St. Petersburg City Hall's external relations committee -- at that time headed by Putin -- was nominated for the commission by the faction of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Duma.

Until March 9, he was the deputy head of the Duma's committee for CIS affairs.

Minutes before the vote Tuesday, Churov made it clear that he regarded himself as a guardian of controversial election laws churned out by the Duma's pro-Kremlin majority.

"Unlike my predecessor, I intend to comment less on election laws, but will comply with them and demand compliance from others," he said when asked about his views on changes in election laws last year.

Those laws, which included the elimination of a turnout threshold and the "against all" option on ballots, as well as banning candidates from publicly criticizing one another during campaigns, were publicly condemned by Veshnyakov -- a position that many believe led him to fall out of favor with the Kremlin and resulted in his departure two weeks ago.

It was clear from the very beginning of Tuesday's commission meeting that speculation about Churov becoming its next chairman was well grounded.

He sat in the middle of a long table next to Gennady Raikov, who, as the senior member of the commission, was serving as acting chairman after Veshnyakov's departure.

Another member of the commission, Yelena Dubrovina, proposed to elect Churov as chairman, saying he "is not burdened by stereotypes formed in the electoral system" and will "bring something new" to the commission's work.

Several other members of the commission, including United Russia member Sergei Kostenko, called on their peers to vote for Churov.

Vadim Solovyov, a nonvoting commission member from the Communist Party, was the only person who protested Churov's nomination.

Solovyov said that Churov had no law education and had never worked in election commissions.

"A magistrate deciding a divorce needs to have a law diploma, five years of experience in court and to pass a bar exam," Solovyov said. "Here, a chairman will be deciding the fate of 140 million people and will not have any legal background."

Solovyov also doubted that Churov, a member of the LDPR faction in the Duma, would be alien to partisan interests.

Churov countered by saying he had not been a member of any party since 1991.

Duma deputies are not required to officially belong to a political party to be a member of a faction.

Churov must resign from his Duma seat immediately and will be replaced by the next candidate down on the LDPR ticket in the 2003 Duma elections.

Veshnyakov was on hand for the first part of Tuesday's meeting, thanking his colleagues but lashing out at United Russia for pushing through laws limiting rights of opposition the Duma and exploiting the administrative clout of its high-positioned members in regional elections.

"Most violations are made to the benefit of the party in power," he said.

Bidding farewell to former colleagues, Veshnyakov, who had headed the commission since 1999, said it was important that his departure not be considered an expulsion of someone standing up for democratic principles.

Political analysts, however, viewed Veshnyakov's departure exactly as that, though they conceded that he was still loyal to the Kremlin.

As a public politician, "his critical remarks were being picked up by the media and used as a weapon against United Russia by opposition," said Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies.

Churov's election demonstrates that the Kremlin has run short in its pool of political appointees, consisting mainly of Putin's former colleagues, Mikheyev said.

"They could not find a person with a legal background and save themselves from the criticism," he said.

Vladislav Surkov, a Putin deputy chief of staff, said at Tuesday's meeting that Veshnyakov was leaving for a "certain new official job," though he did not go into detail.

Speaking about his future priorities in his new post, Churov said he would focus on sufficient financing of election commissions, on educating officials about elections and ensuring accurate and efficient operation of automatic vote counting systems.

Two members of the commission, Yevgeny Kolyushin and Stanislav Vavilov, ran for the deputy chairman seat, with Vavilov winning 11-3 with one abstention.

Kolyushin is famous for being the only commission member to protest in 2003 against a ban on holding referendums in an election year, which was approved by the Duma at the time and eventually signed into law.

Ironically, the commission members voted to include the "against all" option on this ballot.