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Russia Report: October 9, 2003

9 October 2003, Volume 3, Number 40
By Vladimir Kovalev

During the two weeks between the first and second rounds of voting in the St. Petersburg gubernatorial election, the city sank into silence. Campaign posters for Valentina Matvienko, the Kremlin-backed candidate and presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, that had been placed on each high-visibility street corner in the city were almost the only indications of something unusual as the 5 October runoff vote approached.

By the evening of the 5th, exit polls confirmed what everyone in Russia already knew: Matvienko was the winner, with a second-round tally of 63.2 percent, compared to the 48.6 percent she garnered in the first round. St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova, widely viewed as the candidate of the administration of former Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, received 24.2 percent of the vote. Turnout was 28.24 percent.

Shortly after the results of the 21 September first round were announced, Markova virtually disappeared. Between the two rounds, local media -- under strict control from Matvienko's office -- largely ignored her. She finally reemerged on 2 October, for a legally required televised debate with Matvienko.

During the debate, Markova tried to push forward her argument that she was the champion of local democracy. She charged Matviyenko with using her position and her daunting array of administrative resources to pressure local residents.

At one point, she held up a letter that Matvienko's campaign sent to all city residents over the age of 50 congratulating them on the occasion of International Day of the Elderly on 1 October. "Where did you get the database?" Markova asked. "This is interference into residents' personal lives." As she did each time during the so-called debate when Markova asked a direct, pointed question, Matvienko refused to give a direct answer.

"I believe our city, where more than 1.2 million pensioners live, is a city of the elderly," Matvienko said. "These are defenseless people, mostly poor, who don't get even basic attention."

Observers widely agreed that Markova won the debate and came off looking open and frank compared to the stiff Matvienko. Matvienko also failed to demonstrate knowledge of the city's basic problems. At one point, Markova asked Matvienko how much a single trolleybus costs. Matvienko answered 40 million rubles ($1.32 million), after which Markova told her the price is about 3.7 million rubles.

There was really only one moment in the debate when Markova was on the defensive. After Markova accused Matvienko of using her position to secure advantages for her husband in the city's pharmaceuticals-distribution network, Matvienko struck back with a question about the construction of a fountain in a city district that Markova headed before joining Yakovlev's administration. Matvienko accused Markova of giving the contract to install the fountain to a company owned by her husband. Markova failed to respond.

Locals know that construction is something of a sensitive spot for Markova, and Matvienko probably could have come up with a lot of awkward questions in this sphere. The construction industry provided considerable financial backing to Markova's campaign, fearing that a win for Matvienko would mean the Moscow-based companies would expand their activities in the northern capital.

Local builders have their eyes on anticipated municipal contracts to reconstruct residential building built between 1958 and 1970, contracts that are expected to be worth several billion dollars over the next few years. There are 2,400 such buildings in the city, with a total area of 9 million square meters. They comprise 10 percent of the city's residential space.

Matvienko's win is also seen as a threat to interests involved in developing St. Petersburg's commercial port. At present, the port is believed to be backed by commercial interests with links to self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii. Former Yeltsin-era security chief Aleksandr Korzhakov, once a powerful ally of Berezovskii's, is usually credited with bringing Yakovlev to power. Matvienko's victory will probably lead to a redistribution of business opportunities connected to the port.

Local analysts agree that the debate, held just three days before the election, had little impact on the vote. Most people who backed other candidates in the first round did not bother turning out for either Matvienko or Markova in the second. There was a widespread feeling that the outcome of the ballot was predetermined and participating was pointless.

However, it is possible that Markova paid a price for her aggressive style during the debate. The following evening, police raided her campaign headquarters and confiscated copies of her campaign newspaper "Delo chesti."

Furthermore, Markova's efforts to form alliances with other local parties failed as well. A week after the first round, Markova's efforts to marshal the support of the other first-round candidates fell apart. Her efforts to win the support of the local Yabloko faction ran into strong opposition from Yabloko's Moscow headquarters. In the end, Yabloko stuck to its position that Markova was Yakovlev's candidate, and urged voters to support Matvienko in the second round.

Ironically, the coup de grace for Markova was delivered on 30 September when the local branch of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation endorsed her. "We have carefully analyzed Markova's program and her positions on key city problems," said local party committee First Secretary Sergei Malinkovich. "In accord with the city committee's order, we have established all necessary contacts with her headquarters."

In a city that always votes heavily against the Communists, this announcement shook Markova's already fragile position. Markova's efforts to attract young voters by depicting herself as a defender of democracy and a bulwark against Kremlin interference were practically nullified by the Communist endorsement.

Some local analysts have been predicting that Matvienko's election will lead to increased cooperation between the governor's office and the city legislature, which were often at loggerheads during Yakovlev's administration. This does not mean that differences between the two will be resolved, but that Matvienko will bring in the influence of the Kremlin to bulldoze through city disputes. At least Matvienko won't have to ask President Vladimir Putin how much a trolleybus costs.

Vladimir Kovalev covers local politics for "The St. Petersburg Times," in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The race for the governorship of Tver Oblast began earlier than the official campaign date. When a summons to appear before the local prosecutor was served on incumbent Governor Vladimir Platov last month, local residents were immediately reminded that a gubernatorial election is scheduled for 7 December.

Platov immediately fell ill and checked into a hospital, but some two weeks later rose from his sick bed to face the prosecutor and be formally charged with abuse of office. He emerged from that meeting telling the public that he is a victim of an intrigue engineered by political rivals, naming in particular former First Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov. Lieutenant General Zubov, who more recently served as vice president at Sistema, was formally registered as a candidate for governor of Tver Oblast on 2 October.

After Zubov left Sistema, he signed on as chairman of the Presidential Programs Interregional Fund, partially no doubt to raise his profile in Tver. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Zubov became known in Tver for his support of Russian Orthodox churches and his sharp criticism of Platov.

Despite the pending criminal case against him -- or perhaps because of it -- the latest opinion polls show Platov in the lead, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 October, although the newspaper did not provide figures. Whether he can maintain his lead is open to question. In the last election in 2000, Zubov won with just a 0.5 percent margin over his Communist Party challenger in a second round. In the current race, the Communist Party is backing another strong candidate, State Duma Deputy Tatyana Astrakhankina (Agro-Industrial Group), who was elected from a single-mandate district in Tver Oblast. Astrakhankina's attention will be divided, since she is also running for re-election to the State Duma.

Another serious competitor is Dmitrii Zelenin, deputy chairman of the State Sports Committee and former deputy chairman for administration of Norilsk Nickel. Last month, Zelenin promised in a newspaper interview to construct an automobile factory and a soccer stadium in the region and to transform the oblast into a major tourist attraction, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 September.

Platov could be removed from office by President Vladimir Putin if convicted of the serious criminal charge against him, according to independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov, "Vedomosti" reported on 5 September. However, Ryzhkov added that this would not necessarily prevent Platov from participating in the election. (Julie A. Corwin)

In three of the eight gubernatorial races scheduled for 7 December, two incumbents are seeking a second term, while a third has been forced by local law to give up his seat.

Tambov Oblast Governor Oleg Betin officially declared his intention of seeking a second term in the 7 December election, reported on 7 October. So far, three other candidates have thrown their hats into the ring: Kirsanov city administration head Yurii Baturov, Tambov State University rector Aleksei Pozdynakov, and Zherdevskii raion council Chairman Vladimir Gromov.

In Vologda Oblast, three candidates, including incumbent Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, have declared their intention to participate in the 7 December election there. Lostakomservis director Vyacheslav Stepanov and pensioner Sergei Pivovarov will also run. Pozgalev is supported by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party.

The situation in Kirov Oblast is markedly different. Incumbent Governor Vladimir Sergeenkov is ineligible to run for a third term under a local law, and the field of contenders for his post is already crowded. As of 7 October, eight candidates had declared their intention to run including two State Duma deputies -- Vladimir Kazakovtsev (Communist) and Nikolai Shaklein (Russian Regions) -- local Unified Russia chapter Deputy Chairman Oleg Valenchuk, and oblast legislature Chairman Aleksandr Strelnikov, Regnum reported.

The local newspaper "Vytskii nablyudatel" asserted on 24 July that the election season started early with the murder of Shaklein's assistant, Anatolii Gorbushin. Citing unidentified sources, the newspaper reported that Gorbushin had been assigned the task of raising money for Shaklein's campaign. (Julie A. Corwin)

More than 2,700 candidates are already registered as candidates for Russia's 225 single-mandate districts, according to Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, reported on 6 October. One district in Krasnoyarsk Krai currently has 32 candidates, while all districts nationally have at least four candidates.

Several of the races are likely to prove interesting. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, some 19 candidates are running for the seat once occupied by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, Regnum reported on 6 October. According to the agency, the battle for the seat promises to be fierce, since the republic's new president, Mustafa Batdyev, will want his own candidate to win, while the forces that lost the August presidential election will try to use the race to regain lost ground. Batdyev defeated former President Vladimir Semenov.

Unidentified sources in the republican government report that Batdyev has already persuaded the leadership of Unified Russia to support Nadezhda Maksimova, an adviser to Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin.

In the opinion of local observers, Regnum reported, the single-mandate race will be more than a simple Duma election. For Batdyev, it will serve as a chance to show that he is "master of his own house" not only to locals but also to the federal center. For the pro-Semenov opposition, a victory would mean an opportunity for an official political forum and a chance to preserve its local influence. (Julie A. Corwin)

State Duma deputies on 8 October adopted in its first reading a bill that would amend the law on alternative civil service, Russian media reported. Just nine more deputies than required 226 voted in favor of the bill, RosBalt reported. If adopted, the bill would allow young men to perform their alternative military service near their homes. The amendments were prepared by the Duma's Defense Committee, which is chaired by Andrei Nikolaev (People's Deputy).

The government and presidential administration oppose the bill. Presidential envoy to the State Duma Aleksandr Kotenkov suggested that the law be enacted first, and amended only after it has been in force for a while. The law comes into effect on 1 January 2004. Kotenkov also noted that the army is suffering from a sharp decline in personnel, and said it is impermissible to create conditions that would incite people get out of military service. JAC

On 7 October, the Duma approved in its first reading a bill on establishing independent investigative commissions that would give both legislative chambers the right to probe the use of military force within the country and other incidents that cause casualties, Russian media reported. The bill would also authorize the legislature to investigate alleged violations of human rights that occur during states of emergency or under martial law or during federal or local elections. Deputy Boris Nadezhdin (Union of Rightist Forces) predicted that if the bill makes it through the Duma, it will likely be rejected by the Federation Council, reported. JAC

State Duma deputies on 7 October passed an amendment to the Administrative Code in its first reading that would make the punishment for driving drunk more severe, RIA-Novosti reported. In all, 310 deputies voted in favor of the measure. Under the bill, for a first offense, a drunk driver could be sentenced to a loss of driving privileges for a period from six months to two years. The current penalty is one year. JAC

Also on 7 October, State Duma deputies approved in its second reading a bill to increase the minimum wage to the subsistence level by 2007, ITAR-TASS reported. The minimum wage is currently 600 rubles ($20) a month, while the official subsistence level is 2,328 rubles. JAC

PROMOTED: President Vladimir Putin has appointed Vadim Morozov as the new railways minister, Russian media reported on 7 October. Morozov has been acting railways minister since 23 September, when former Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev was appointed president of the state Russian Railways Company. Before that, Morozov was first deputy railways minister. Morozov graduated from the Leningrad Institute for Railway Transport Engineers in 1977.

OUT: The State Duma voted on 7 October to approve the early departures of three legislators: Nikolai Ryzhkov (independent), Aslanbek Aslakhanov (Fatherland-Unified Russia), and Yevgenii Ishchenko (independent), Russian media reported. Ryzhkov will become a representative for Belgorod Oblast in the Federation Council. Aslakhanov has been appointed an assistant to President Putin on Caucasus affairs, and Ishchenko was elected mayor of Volgograd in September. Deputies also approved the resignation of "Parlamentskaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Leonid Kravchenko, RosBalt reported. Kravchenko's resignation must also be approved by the Federation Council.

15 October: The Duma will consider the 2004 budget in the second reading

23-26 October: First anniversary of the Moscow-theater hostage crisis

25-26 October: Russian Forum on the development of civil society will be held in Nizhnii Novgorod

26 October: Repeat mayoral elections will be held in Norilsk

29 October: 85th anniversary of the founding of the Komsomol

5 November: President Putin will visit Italy for the EU-Russia summit in Rome

7 November: Campaign for the State Duma elections officially begins

19 November: Deadline for investigators working on the case against Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin

20 November: Fifth anniversary of the killing of State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova

7 December: Bashkortostan will hold a presidential election

7 December: Gubernatorial elections in Moscow, Tver, Yaroslavl, Kirov, Orenburg, Tambov, Sakhalin, and Novosibirsk oblasts

7 December: Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug will hold referendums on merging the two regions

7 December: Moscow, Yekaterinburg, and Tyumen will hold mayoral elections

7 December: Kabardino-Balkariya will hold parliamentary elections

7 December: State Duma elections will be held