On July 29 Gennady Khodyrev, a State Duma deputy and member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), defeated Ivan Sklyarov, Nizhegorod Oblast’s incumbent governor, in a run-off gubernatorial election. Khodyrev received almost 60 percent of the votes. Sklyarov won only 29 percent (Russian agencies, July 30).
The election was a repetition of one held four years ago, when Sklyarov and Khodyrev also faced each another in a gubernatorial run-off. That time, of course, Sklyarov won. This time, a team of members of the pro-Kremlin Unity Party descended on Nizhegorod to campaign for Sklyarov, and Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov turned up to campaign for Khodyrev (Polit.ru, Russian agencies, July 24). Zyuganov was supported by his fellow Communist, State Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev, who declared that with Khodyrev’s victory the oblast would “take off” (Russian agencies, July 27).
Voters appeared unmoved by a startling report widely disseminated in the national media on the eve of the second round of voting. According to this rumor, the Kremlin was threatening that, if Khodyrev won, the “capital” of the Volga federal district would be transferred from the regional capital, Nizhny Novgorod, to another Volga city. Samara and Saratov were mentioned. This proposal was allegedly made at a meeting of the presidential administration held to discuss the results of the first round of voting (Lenta.ru, July 24). Officially it was neither confirmed nor denied. Representatives of the Nizhny Novgorod administration merely commented that they could say nothing about the reports since they themselves had learned about them from the newspapers (Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 24). Khodyrev asserted that he had held consultations with representatives of the Kremlin administration several days earlier and that the issue of moving the capital had not been raised (Radio Ekho Moskvy, July 24). Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitry Ayatskov sidestepped the question, saying (wrongly, as it turned out) that Sklyarov was sure to win (Polit.ru, July 25). The team of Sergei Kirienko, President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Volga federal district, also discounted the report. Such a move, Kirienko’s people noted, would cost at least 500 million rubles (approximately US$17 million) (Vremya Novostei, July 25).
The rumors about Kremlin plans to punish a Khodyrev victory by moving the capital of the federal district were almost certainly false. This does not, however, exclude the possibility that they were cooked up by the Kremlin in an attempt to discredit Khodyrev. Among those holding this view is Gennady Seleznev (Russian agencies, July 27). Sklyarov is hardly a charismatic figure, and perhaps his supporters felt it was necessary to go to desperate lengths to scare voters into voting him back to office (Novye Izvestia, July 26). If that was the plan, it failed. The defeat of the Kremlin’s candidate in Russia’s third most prosperous region is clear to see. It demonstrates that the Kremlin has run out of mechanisms to influence what happens even in a region such as Nizhegorod which was, until very recently, under firm Kremlin control.
INCUMBENT WELL PLACED IN IRKUTSK.