Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 232

On December 16, three Russian regions–the Republics of Gorny Altai, Komi and Chuvashia–held elections for their chief executives. According to preliminary results, Nikolai Federov won re-election in the Chuvash Republic, receiving 40.7 percent of the vote. (Chuvashia has a single-round system for its presidential elections, and the candidate who wins a simple majority wins the election.) Valentin Shurchanov, leader of the local communists, came second with 37.7 percent of the vote. Gorny Altai will have to hold a run-off election, pitting Mikhail Lapshin, chairman of the Agrarian Party, who won 23.5 percent of the vote in the first round, against the incumbent, Semyon Zubakin, who won 15 percent. The result in Komi will be known only by December 21, since ballots from remote districts are still being counted. Preliminary information puts Vladimir Torlopov, chairman of the Republic of Komi State Council, in the lead, with Komi’s current leader, Yuri Spiridonov, slightly behind (Russian agencies, December 17).

Of the three elections, that in Chuvashia attracted the most media attention. This is because Federov is known as a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin’s policies, in particular, of the Russian president’s reforms to federal structure. Well before polling day, observers were confidently predicting that Federov would be re-elected (Vremya Novostei, December 11).

Two factors made his victory likely. Above all, none of Federov’s four opponents received any support from the Kremlin. According to Vladislav Sakarchuk, an expert with the Center for the Political State of Affairs, the federal center simply did not want to interfere. “Federov was so blatant in his criticism of the federal reforms that any kind of action against him by Moscow would have turned him into a martyr for democracy. A second explanation for the passivity of the federal authorities was their lack of interest in poor Chuvashia.” A third reason why Federov’s victory was practically inevitable was that, “Despite his image as an unwavering defender of democracy and federalism,” Fedorov had constructed in Chuvashia “the strict vertical of power against which he struggled on an all-Russian scale. The heads of local self-government bodies are completely loyal to him, the republic parliament is under his control and the president nips in the bud any attempt to form a viable opposition” (, December 10).

Another reason for Federov’s success was the disunity of his political opponents. The local opposition put up two candidates who were essentially competing for the same votes–Stanislav Voronov, a lieutenant general in the Federal Security Service (FSB), and Valentin Shurchanov, the communist candidate. One of them might have stood a chance of winning had the other bowed out (, December 10;, December 13). A few days before the election one candidate set just such an example: Igor Kashaev, head of the Chuvash chapter of the Russian Union of Afghanistan Veterans, withdrew from the race and called on his supporters to vote for Voronov. His move was met with approval in the republic. Kashaev had been considered an ally of Federov and had been expected to drop out of the race in favor of the incumbent; instead, Kashaev publicly criticized Federov’s activities as regional leader (, December 9). Such an example did not find imitators, however, and the opposition went into the elections divided into two camps.