The first of Russia’s upcoming gubernatorial elections will be held on September 1 in Saratov oblast on the Volga. The region is part of Russia’s pro-Communist "Red Belt" and voting results will be eagerly scanned to judge the success of the Yeltsin team’s campaign to sway voters. The incumbent governor, Dmitri Ayatskov, is the present favorite, but is an unknown quantity since he was appointed to his post only in April. So far, Ayatskov has failed to carry out his vow to "snatch Saratov from the Red Belt"; voters supported communist candidates in the December 1995 parliamentary elections and voted even more heavily for Gennady Zyuganov in last month’s presidential elections.
Ayatskov’s main challenger is the Communist candidate, Anatoly Gordeev, described as popular locally and respected not just by Communists but even by democrats. The race is therefore expected to be close. A member of Yeltsin’s staff, Sergei Samoilov, has already visited the region; addressing local leaders on July 27, he promised that the Kremlin would do everything necessary to ward off "communist revenge."
In last month’s presidential election voters tended to vote in line with their ideological convictions. But in the gubernatorial elections voters are more likely to be swayed by personalities and to choose a candidate because they feel he will be able to defend the interests of their region vis-a-vis the federal center, extract financial concessions from the federal government, and prevent Moscow businesses from muscling in on the oblast. Ayatskov is trying to project himself as the best person to defend Saratov’s interests. His campaign message is that anyone who votes for Gordeev will be "voting against Saratov’s status with the powers that be in Moscow." (The Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov)
Dudaev’s Ghost Haunts Moscow.