With the death of Aleksandr Lebed, the battle for the governorship of Krasnoyarsk Krai has de facto begun. While the date for new elections has not yet been set, the region’s main political forces have shown themselves ready to join the fray. As observers in the main Russian media have noted, the battle for Krasnoyarsk’s governorship is likely to be fierce.
According krai law, if a governor leaves office for one reason or another before his term is up, a date for a new election has to be announced within fourteen days and must take place no earlier than seventy days and no later than 180 days after the announcement is made. There has been fierce debate in the krai legislative assembly over when to hold the election, with some deputies pushing for July 28 but others pushing for September 8. The legislature has opted to decide the date during its next sitting, scheduled for May 13. Up until that election, Nikolai Ashlapov, Lebed’s former first deputy, will serve as acting governor (KMnews.ru, May 7; NTVru.com, RTR-vesti.ru, May 6).
Practically all observers agree that the battle to succeed Lebed will be a serious test for Krasnoyarsk’s politicians. Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), predicted the election would be “difficult” because it will take place against the backdrop of Lebed’s tragic death but said the CEC would do everything to ensure that the battle does not go outside the boundaries of the law (Itar-Tass, Strana.ru, April 29). Even Lebed’s most stalwart opponents admit that his death has cardinally changed the political situation in the region. Krasnoyarsk Krai’s elite was basically divided between opponents and supporters of Lebed and Lebed himself was the region’s central issue (Vremya Novostei, April 29).
Few observers believe that acting Governor Ashlapov has much hope of winning. He has the reputation in the krai of being unlucky: Two years ago he suffered a stinging defeat when he ran for mayor of Achinsk, the krai’s third largest city. More generally, Lebed’s death has thrown his supporters into a state of confusion, because he left no obvious successor (Polit.ru, April 29).
At the same time, many observers believe that Lebed’s opponents, who previously acted in concert, will inevitably split up, given that the only thing that kept them together was the goal of preventing Lebed from winning re-election. In addition, Lebed, despite his blatant economic errors, still managed to embody President Vladimir Putin’s idea of keeping powerful businessmen at an equal arm’s distance from state power. Without interfering directly in corporate business affairs, Lebed guaranteed that a number of large business deals went through but cut off the business community’s access to the krai’s “administrative resources,” meaning the informal capabilities that a regional administration has at its disposal. His death has clearly sparked renewed competition among the krai’s powerful business groupings for control over those administrative levers (Izvestia, Kommersant, SMI.ru, April 29).
Most observers believe that the candidate with the best chances of succeeding Lebed is Aleksandr Uss, chairman of the Krasnoyarsk Krai legislative assembly. Vladimir Goryunov, an expert with the Russian Project (Russky Proyekt) Foundation, noted that Uss enjoys “significant popularity” in the krai and is the only candidate with “the ability to carry out a real election campaign in the remaining months before the pre-term election.” Goryunov noted, however, that Uss is not supported by some within President Vladimir Putin’s administration, which means that measures may be taken against him similar to those taken against former Kursk Oblast Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi, who was disqualified from his re-election bid on the eve of the election in his region (Pravda.ru, April 29).
Other observers believe that Lebed’s brother, Aleksei, who currently heads the Republic of Khakasia, has the best chance to take over in Krasnoyarsk. On the other hand, Aleksei Lebed could cause the fragmenting anti-Lebed opposition to pull together (Izvestia, April 29). Anatoly Bykov, the former head of the Krasnoyarsk Aluminum Factory, also enjoys popularity, but he is awaiting trial on charges of plotting a murder and, if convicted, would lose his right to run for governor. Another potential candidate is Aleksandr Khloponin, the head of the Taimyr Autonomous District, which lies within the Krasnoyarsk Krai’s jurisdiction. But the votes of Taimyr residents are not enough to elect the Khloponin Krai governor, and he has no support outside the district. Likewise, the mayor of the city of Krasnoyarsk, Pyotr Pimashkov has little chance of winning Krasnoyarsk’s election, given that it will be the votes of people in the krai’s more politically active countryside, not its cities, which will be the decisive factor in electing a new governor (Kommersant, April 29).
Local observes believe that the federal center will play a decisive role in the Krasnoyarsk gubernatorial election. Thus far, the Kremlin has not openly taken the side of any particular potential candidate. As Igor Rak, editor of Krasnoyarsky Rabochy, the region’s largest newspaper, put it: “This factor is simply not known thus far. But if the president says he will support a particular person, then I think that person will win” (Utro.ru, April 29). It is possible that the issue of merging the krai, Taimyr and the Evenk Autonomous District into a single region, an idea that Aleksandr Lebed put forward in April, will be used as a card to win Moscow’s support (Gazeta, April 29).
A possible wild card would be if a Kremlin-backed candidate from outside the region joined the battle. Indeed, there were rumors in the national press that Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu would run for the Krasnoyarsk governorship. Shoigu told journalists yesterday, however, that he had no such plans and had learned of them only from the media. “I have many other problems which demand resolution–fires, floods,” he said (RIA Novosti, May 7).
SERGEI KATANANDOV WINS KARELIAN ELECTION.