The so-called party of power, Unified Russia, managed to win outright in one region and lead the first round in two regions, while the Communist Party governors held onto control in two regions during the first round. It lost control in a third region, where the longtime Communist governor was disqualified just before the election.
But the courts -- rather than the political parties -- appear to have played the most significant role in these elections: In three regions, competitive candidates likely to finish first or second in their respective races were disqualified shortly before the ballot. All of those disqualified candidates were poised to oppose representatives of Unified Russia and/or representatives that the Kremlin favored.
Although Unified Russia supported leading candidates in three of six races, the party can hardly hail the results as a mandate from the people. In Astrakhan, the electorate was voting for Aleksandr Zhilkin as a representative of a continuation of the policies of the late Governor Anatolii Guzhvin, not as a representative of the party of power, according to RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent. The only region in which the party of power won an easy victory was Astrakhan Oblast, where longtime leader Guzhvin died suddenly in August. Putin named Guzhvin's first deputy, Zhilkin, as acting governor soon after the tragedy and the majority of the regional elite supported him going into the election. He won outright in the first round with more than 65 percent of the vote. The opposition in the oblast, led by State Duma deputy (Motherland) Oleg Shein, concentrated its efforts on the Astrakhan mayoral race that was also held on 5 December, RFE/RL's Astrakhan correspondent reported on 6 December. The opposition won, electing a new mayor in oblast legislator Sergei Bazhanov.
With the State Duma's recent passage of a law canceling gubernatorial elections, these elections are likely to be the last executive-level races in these regions for the foreseeable future.
In Bryansk Oblast, Unified Russia candidate Nikolai Denin won the first round with 45 percent in large part because a local court struck the incumbent governor's name off the ballot a week before the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). Incumbent Governor Yurii Lodkin, a Communist, responded to the court's action by calling on his supporters to vote against all candidates, and about 20 percent of participating voters did this, according to RFE/RL's Bryansk correspondent.
In Ulyanovsk Oblast, the highly unpopular incumbent Governor Vladimir Shamanov, who had been a member of Unified Russia, was insisting on running for reelection despite polls showing that he would fail to reach a second-round runoff. Just last month, following a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, he was finally lured away to Moscow with a job as an adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. With Shamanov out of the way, Dmitrovgrad Mayor and Unified Russia party member Sergei Morozov managed to win the first round -- but not by much. He received just 40,000 more votes than Ulyanovsk entrepreneur Sergei Gerasimov, a member of the political council for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) in Ulyanovsk. While Morozov had the support of the Unified Russia, another member of Unified Russia's State Duma faction, Margarita Barzhanova, ignored the party's instructions to bow out of the race and finished third with 15 percent of the vote. Barzhanova accused presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko of interfering in the race on Morozov's behalf.
In the set of races on 5 December, the Communist governors did surprisingly well -- with the obvious exception of Bryansk Governor Lodkin, who was disqualified a week before the election. Of course, Volgograd Oblast Governor Nikolai Maksyuta is only nominally Communist, and his strongest alliance is not with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) but with LUKoil. In addition, local analysts believe the Kremlin does not oppose Maksyuta retaining his position despite his membership in the Communist Party, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 6 December. They speculate that Kremlin officials might even have helped Maksyuta by giving a nudge to the Supreme Court, which upheld the disqualification of Maksyuta's chief competition in the race, Volgograd Mayor Yevgenii Ishchenko. Maksyuta led the first round with 41.4 percent of the vote, compared to 13.2 percent for city legislator Nikolai Volkov. The two candidates supported by Unified Russia, State Duma deputies Vladimir Goryunov and Oleg Savchenko, failed to make it even to the second round.
In Pskov Oblast -- a candidate supported by a coalition of the Communist Party, Yabloko, and other local groups -- former State Duma Deputy Mikhail Kuznetsov (People's Deputy) managed to unseat incumbent Yevgenii Mikhailov. Mikhailov enjoyed strong support from Unified Russia and presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Ilya Klebanov. In addition, a Supreme Court-presidium decision disqualifying his toughest competitor, Pskov Mayor Mikhail Khoronen, a week before the first round on 14 November gave his campaign a big boost. But Pskov Oblast's electorate has a tradition of "protest voting" due in part to its poor economic condition, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 December. However, all might not be lost for Unified Russia. Kuznetsov is reportedly going to sign up with his former foes. Unified Russia General Secretary Valerii Bogomolov declared that Kuznetsov is a party supporter and will enter its ranks.
In Kamchatka Oblast, incumbent Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev is full-fledged Communist Party and does not enjoy Kremlin support. Like Kuznetsov, his chief rival in the second round, local raion head Boris Nevzorov, is a new convert to Unified Russia. Mashkovtsev has been the center of a long-running criminal case, and five days before the election, law enforcement officers forcibly brought him to the local prosecutor's office to review the 20 volumes of legal documents amassed against him. Despite his legal troubles, Mashkovtsev managed to win a plurality from among 16 candidates. The candidate officially supported by Unified Russia, Aleksandr Dudnikov, finished fourth with just 10 percent of the vote.
Second rounds that will be required in Kamchatka, Volgograd, Bryansk, and Ulyanovsk oblasts will take place before the end of this month. With the State Duma's recent passage of a law in all three readings canceling gubernatorial elections, these elections are likely to be the last executive-level races in these regions for the foreseeable future.
It is therefore not unreasonable to suggest that the second round of these races will be even more hotly contested than the first.