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Analysis: Goodbye To All That

Russia wound up its latest -- and soon to be last -- batch of gubernatorial elections on 26 and 19 December 2004 with the expected results. A bevy of incumbents and candidates supported by the current party of power were reelected by the usual means -- physical attacks, last-minute court decisions, disqualifying their opponents, and the distribution of compromising materials in the press.

The percentage of votes cast for the "none of the above" option rose to new levels, suggesting that at least some voters will not miss the short-lived experiment with electing regional executives that President Boris Yeltsin launched some 11 years ago.

Three elections were held on 26 December, and another five on 19 December. In six of the eight races, incumbents were reelected. In the remaining two regions, the incumbents in question had either been eased out or forced out prior to election day. Communist Governor of Bryansk Yurii Lodkin had been disqualified shortly before the first round, and the unpopular incumbent Ulyanovsk Governor Vladimir Shamanov was lured to Moscow with a better job offer.

Not only incumbents but also representatives of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party fared well in these two sets of elections. Five out of eight winning candidates were aligned with Unified Russia. But upon closer examination, the tally may be less than meets the eye. The party had a difficult time electing its hand-picked candidates, while the ones it supported only nominally did well. For example, in Khabarovsk Krai, the incumbent Governor Viktor Ishaev won a third term by a hefty margin: 85.3, in the first round held on 26 December. But he secured the central party's support only on the evening of the first round, "Vremya novostei" reported on 21 December. Prior to that, the party's unofficial and the president's official envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii has been waging a multi-year struggle against Ishaev.
Governor Nikolai Maksut...sustained a concussion when struck by the falling clapper of a church bell during a visit to a local church.

Meanwhile, in Ulyanovsk, Dimitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov, who was supported by Unified Russia, won with 52.8 percent of the vote but only after his close competitor, local dairy magnate Sergei Gerasimov, was disqualified just before the second round. Gerasimov had only 40,000 votes less than Morozov in the first round. According to RFE/RL's Ulyanovsk correspondent on 23 December, print media controlled by the oblast administration published disparaging materials about the relationship between presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko and Morozov. The publications also hinted that it would be better to vote against all in the second round and to wait for President Putin to appoint a new governor to the region. Whether it was because of such exhortations or frustration with candidates who did make it on to the ballot, the electorate responded. The percentage voting for "against all" was unusually high with 25.2 percent.

The Communist Party managed to hold onto two governorships, but not without a struggle. Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, who won a second term on 19 December, was facing criminal charges for months leading up to the election. Local police dragged him into the prosecutor's office a week before the first round to review materials in his case. In Volgograd, incumbent Governor Nikolai Maksuta suffered not just the usual verbal blows from bruising debates with political competitors. He actually sustained a concussion when struck by the falling clapper of a church bell during a visit to a local church. And while he was at the hospital recovering and receiving three stitches to his head, his house was burgled. Unknown assailants stole jewelry and other expensive items and even drank up the governor's supply of cognac, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 December. According to "Izvestiya," the governor's press service issued a report on the day of the election saying that the incidents involving the governor "could be the result of purposeful actions by his political opponents."

Russia's very last gubernatorial election for the foreseeable future will take place on 23 January in the tiny Far Northern province in Nenets Autonomous Okrug. There, the current Governor Vladimir Butov is fighting multiple legal cases in order to be able to seek a third term. Governor Butov, however, has much experience with the law. According to "Politicheskii zhurnal," No. 35, Butov's name has come up in several criminal cases over the course of the past four years, and during that same period several okrug prosecutors have resigned.