Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 81

Gubernatorial elections were held on April 22 in Kemerovo Oblast–Russia’s largest coal-producing region in southwestern Siberia–and in Tula Oblast, south of Moscow, which has been a center of weapons production since the time of Peter the Great. The Tula race was a run-off, the first round having taken place on April 8 (Russian agencies, April 22). Both elections were mired in controversy, yet the outcomes of both were predictable. Indeed, the victory of the incumbent governors of both regions was all but inevitable.

The Kemerovo governor’s race was a pre-term election triggered by the premature resignation of the incumbent governor, Aman Tuleev, a well-known politician who has taken part in all of Russia’s presidential elections. Tuleev’s resignation as governor did not prevent him from running for the same post again or becoming the odds-on favorite.

One event illustrates the character of the race. On April 18, one of the candidates, Aleksei Grebennikov, deputy general director of the Kuzbassenergo company, announced that he was withdrawing from the race. Instead, Grebennikov called on his supporters to vote for Tuleev. Grebennikov revealed, furthermore, that he had put his candidacy forward at Tuleev’s request in order to ensure that the election would be valid (Russian law requires that there be more than one candidate in an election.) (Russian agencies, Polit.ru, April 18) It seems Tuleev feared the election would be invalidated because no one would dare to run against him. His fears, however, proved unfounded. In all, five candidates stood for election (TV-6, April 22). Tuleev had, nonetheless, no really serious challenger, and was opposed by neither the federal center nor the local elite. As a result, he won 93.5 percent of the vote, while his rivals garnered an average of 1 percent each (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 23). As for controversy, that took place outside the oblast. On April 19, Russia’s State Duma passed in the first reading a series of amendments to the electoral code. The purpose of the amendments, which were proposed by President Putin, was to prevent governors who had resigned or been removed from office by presidential decree to run again for their vacated posts (Russian agencies, April 19). Indeed, the amendments were provoked by the actions of Tuleev and Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, both of whom had stepped down early from their posts and run again for the governor’s post. Because the amendments had no retroactive application, however, they created no problems for either Tuleev or Titov (Polit.ru, February 27).

The Tula Oblast run-off pitted incumbent Governor Vasily Starodubtsev–an orthodox Communist who was one of the August 1991 coup plotters–against a younger competitor. This was Andrei Samoshin, chief of administration in Yula’s Leninsky district and a member of the region’s new, patriotically inclined elite. Samoshin came in more than 20 percentage points behind Starodubtsev in the first round (Russian agencies, April 9).

The most remarkable aspect of the contest was that the second round took place at all, since Starodubtsev came within 1 percentage point of winning outright in the first round. Most observers interpreted this as a defeat for Starodubtsev (NNS.ru, April 9). Observers spoke of “the Samoshin phenomenon” (Segodnya, April 9) and to attribute the young candidate’s success to his use of patriotic slogans (Polit.ru, April 20).

Tula’s voters have indeed tended to vote for the candidates who built their campaigns on slogans affirming Russia’s character as a “great power” [derzhavnost]. Such candidates have included retired General Aleksandr Lebed and former Yeltsin bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov. The patriotic image suited Samoshin, who had fought in the Afghan War and, after being elected head of Leninsky district, both added a course in “Russia’s spiritual heritage” to the local school curriculum and launched a campaign against drug abuse (Segodnya, April 9).

Samoshin’s success might have been even greater had his team not dealt a blow to his image when, on the last day of the campaign, they invaded the offices of the oblast election commission. The commission had announced its intention of investigating alleged electoral violations by some members of Samoshin’s team (Polit.ru, April 20). The occupiers were evicted from the building by the police, who announced that they would be bringing criminal charges of interfering in the work of the oblast election commission and resisting law enforcement officers (Russian agencies, April 16).

The scandal did not prevent Samoshin from getting into the runoff. Rather than fighting to the end, however, he announced on April 18 that he was dropping out of the race altogether (Russian agencies, April 18). His place was automatically taken by the candidate who came third in the first round. This was Viktor Sokolovsky, general director of the Tsentrgaz company. That same day, however, both Sokolovsky and another candidate, Andrei Brezhnev, candidate of the radical left and grandson of the former Soviet leader, announced they too were withdrawing from the race (Russian agencies, April 18). All of this looked like a plot to invalidate the elections and prevent Starodubtsev from winning (Izvestia, April 18). But Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, declared that the elections should go forward. “For every ploy,” Veshnyakov declared mysteriously, “there is a counterploy” (NTV, April 18).

One was soon found. Sokolovsky was forced to run in the election, albeit against his will, because electoral law says that no candidate may stand down later than three days before election day (Kommersant, April 19). All of this created the grounds for challenging the results of the election in court, but such challenges rarely succeed. According to experts, dropping out of an election three days before polling day amounts to a clear violation of election procedures. “Forced participation” in elections is, nonetheless, no less a violation (Polit.ru, April 20).

The results of the Tula vote followed naturally. Starodubtsev won a bit over 71 percent of the vote, while, Sokolovsky, the forced participant, won only 17 percent (Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 23).