Primorsky Krai’s campaign for governor has already begun, thanks to disgraced Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko’s “voluntary” resignation last month. The election has been set for May 27, which leaves little time for hopeful candidates to campaign. This hampers those candidates who cannot rely on the informal organizational resources of the former governor’s team.
The krai election commission has so far registered half a dozen candidates for the vacant post. They include a lawyer, an old-age pensioner, the local Communist Party leader, a local parliamentarian, an unemployed person and a businessman (Russian agencies, February 26-March 3). Most observers believe, however, that the main candidates have yet to register. They include Viktor Cherepkov, former mayor of the regional capital Vladivostok, who has for years led the opposition to the Nazdratenko regime (Russian agencies, March 3). Cherepkov has made no secret of his gubernatorial ambitions. But he is likely to face stiff competition and he will have to rely on his own resources because he is unlikely to get any support from the federal center. Nor has any national political grouping announced plans to support him. This is not necessarily fatal: Experience shows that candidates with no links to the federal center often do the best, and the former Vladivostok mayor has extensive experience in fighting elections. But Cherepkov will have to compete not only with potential “Kremlin candidates” but also with a number of candidates who have strong support within Primorsky Krai. He will also have to face the fact that a large number of voters in Primorye would in no circumstances vote for either Nazdratenko or Cherepkov. Cherepkov’s chances do not, in short, look bright (Ekspert, March 3).
A possible alternative for disillusioned voters is Vladimir Grishukov, leader of the krai’s Communist Party. After the difficult winter, which brought home the fact that neither the local nor the federal authorities could or would tackle the region’s catastrophic energy problems, many voters may be ready to vote for a Communist candidate as a means of registering their protest. The successful showing of Communist candidates in other regions during last fall’s gubernatorial elections suggests that Grishukov’s prospects are good.
The candidate whom Nazdratenko decides to back is also likely to be a serious challenger. Who that will be is still an open question. Some observers believe that Nazdratenko himself may run again (NTV, February 19). These observers are not convinced that Nazdratenko’s appointment as head of the State Fisheries Committee, widely seen as the price the Kremlin had to pay to keep Nazdratenko out of the election, will prevent him from running. They warn that the bill President Vladimir Putin has submitted to the State Duma, which seeks to prohibit governors who leave office early from running again for their former posts, will not necessarily stop Nazdratenko. First, the law may enter into force too late to cover the May 27 election. Second, several regional leaders, including Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, have argued that the law should not apply to governors who stepped down before it came into effect, because laws may not be applied retroactively (Polit.ru, February 26).
As for Cherepkov, he has predicted that Nazdratenko will promote a handpicked candidate. This could be Nakhodka Mayor Viktor Gnezdilov (Radio Ekho Moskvy, February 19) or Yury Kopylov, currently mayor of Vladivostok, who won that post with Nazdratenko’s support. The Kremlin, for its part, is biding its time. There are several rumors about which candidate Putin’s team will put forward. One likely individual appears to be Gennady Apanasenko, deputy presidential representative in the Far Eastern federal district. Apanasenko himself claims that the heads of large local businesses, deputies to the krai Duma and ordinary residents alike are urging him to run (Russian agencies, February 20; Zhizn’, February 28). As for Putin, he appears to favor another candidate: Admiral Igor Kasatonov, the deputy commander of the Russian Navy (NNS.ru, February 26). According to some observers, Putin’s Kremlin prefers to hand regional power over to military men, especially in regions so strategically located as Primorsky Krai (Kommersant, February 26).
KUCHMA DISPERSES PROTEST.