Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 193

On October 15, the Udmurtia Republic held its first presidential election. Prior to this, it had no post of president. It was a parliamentary republic, meaning that the Udmurtia Republic State Council, the republic’s parliament, appointed the chairman of the Udmurtia Republic government. The elections were carried out under a system with only one round of voting, and under which the winner is the candidate who gets a simple majority greater than 25 percent. Had fewer than 25 percent of eligible voters participated, the election would have been canceled. Preliminary results suggest that Aleksandr Volkov, chairman of the Udmurtia Republic State Council, won with 37.8 percent of the vote. A majority of observers had predicted that he would win. Volkov’s main challengers were Pavel Vershinin, first deputy chairman of the Udmurtia Republic State Council, who received 23.9 percent of the vote, Nikolai Ganza, chairman of the Udmurtia Republic government, who won 12.3 percent of the vote, and former State Duma Deputy Andrei Soluyanov (no data is yet available for him).

While political organizations did not play a big role in the Udmurtia vote, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) faction in the State Duma and Russian People’s Patriotic Union came out in support of Volkov (Russian agencies, October 12). The position taken by the left-wing forces was a reaction to the position taken by Unity, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and Yabloko, all of whom backed Nikolai Ganza, Volkov’s main opponent (Russian agencies, October 12). In all, eleven candidates ran in the Udmurtia presidential contest, though four of them dropped out in the final days of the campaign. One of those was the candidate of the republican branch of the KPRF–Vyacheslav Anufriev, general director of the Udmurtprodkontrakt enterprise. In his official announcement that he was withdrawing from the race, Anufriev indicated that he did not agree with the campaigning methods of the other candidates. He did not give concrete examples, saying only that he did not want “to participate in elections which had turned into a show” (Russian agencies, October 11).

The word “show” is not at all inappropriate. Many Moscow commentators noted that the inhabitants of Udmurtia, who had not encountered an election campaign of such dimensions before, were shaken by what they witnessed over the last few months. “The people are horrified,” one Moscow newspaper wrote. “And not only at the actions of the authorities, but at their own. It turns out that certain people whom they elected as deputies in the [republican] State Council are not people at all, but monsters. The warring PR specialists managed to convince the electorate that State Council Chairman Aleksandr Volkov is an unscrupulous politician concerned exclusively with his career, [and that] Nikolai Ganza, chairman of the government, is planning to turn the republic into a nuclear grave” (Versty, October 10). Volkov’s team was the most active in using such PR and other campaign technologies. Already the de facto head of the republic, he widely used the “administrative resources” at his disposal–meaning the informal powers which a leader at the level has. It is precisely such “resources” which give Russia’s governors practically unlimited power in their territories.

Within a given region there is no way to oppose these “administrative resources.” This explains why Volkov’s opponents tried to rely on the one potential ally whose administrative resources are comparable to Volkov’s–President Vladimir Putin. Thus the heads of a number of Udmurtia’s political organizations addressed an appeal to Putin complaining about the “crude violations in election law” which Volkov permitted. The appeal, which was signed by Envil Kasimov (chairman of the local branch of Unity), Vitaly Skrynnik (deputy chairman of the local SPS branch) and others, charged that Volkov had given voters the false impression that he was backed by the Russian president (Russian agencies, October 9). Volkov’s supporters in fact did actively play the “Kremlin card,” using Putin’s name and authority to raise the popularity of their candidate. They gave special emphasis to the fact that not long before the election, Putin had invited “the candidate he really supports”–that is, Volkov–to Moscow and approved the Udmurtia State Council chairman’s program “Development of Udmurtia.” Volkov’s supporters said that criticism of the candidate’s “election technologies” in the national and some local media was the result of a campaign to discredit Volkov carried out by the media tycoons Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky (Izvestia Udmurstskoi Respubliki, October 11).

In reality, the main source of worry for Volkov’s team was not the media magnates, but representatives of the political parties which had, along with journalists, come out in support of Nikolai Ganza. The Yabloko faction in the State Duma even called for the creation of a parliamentary commission to ensure that the elections in Udmurtia would be carried out lawfully. Yabloko deputy Sergei Mitrokhin pointed to evidence of wide scale violations of election law allowed by Volkov, alleging that Volkov had used his official position to exert pressure on voters, journalists, members of the republic’s election commission and other candidates. Yabloko also expressed doubts that Volkov’s personal lawyer had the right to head the republic’s election commission. Mitrokhin, citing information from the Udmurtia press, charged that Volkov’s lawyer had been put in that post using fake documents (Russian agencies, October 11).

The heads of a number of print and electronic media in Udmurtia appealed to various Moscow publications, including Komsomolskaya pravda, Trud, Moskovsky Komsomolets and Argumenty i fakty. The Udmurtia journalists reported that local publications had been removed from retail sales points throughout the republic. This action, which the journalists claimed was carried out with the participation of Informpechat, the republic’s official information agency, was taken because the publications had criticized Volkov (Russian agencies, October 10).

Despite all of this, the Central Election Commission (CEC) decided that there were insufficient grounds to reject Aleksandr Volkov’s registration as a candidate for Udmurtia’s presidency. The commission simply joined with the republican elections commission in calling certain newspaper articles in support of Volkov illegal election agitation. The CEC, however, took no radical steps against Volkov (Russian agencies, October 10).

Despite all of the appeals from Udmurtia, the Kremlin did not react to the events there. It seems that Putin learned something from the Kremlin’s previous unsuccessful attempts to interfere in regional elections. Observers note that the only sign that the federal center sympathized with Volkov was the fact that someone from his team was named chief federal inspector for Udmurtia (Kommersant, October 10). All the same, the outcome of the election in Udmurtia is being viewed as a victory by the center. The claim that Putin was supporting Volkov was widely circulated in the republic. And, even if Ganza had won, this would not have looked like a Kremlin defeat, given that Ganza was supported by Unity, which is known as Putin’s party. The only unpleasant surprise for the Kremlin would have been a victory by Pavel Vershinin. This, however, did not happen.