Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 121

Local elections were held in Vladivostok on June 18, in which voters were invited to elect both the city’s mayor and deputies to vacant seats in the City Council (Russian agencies, June 18). This was the eighteenth time elections had been held for the City Council but, just as every time before, the elections were declared invalid on the basis of a low voter turnout. The legally required limit was reached in only one of the eight city districts electing representatives. This means that the local population remains unrepresented, because deputies must be elected in all eight districts before the City Council may take up its duties (NTV, June 18-19).

The mayoral election was more successful. Last year, two mayoral elections were held, both of which were eventually annulled on various technicalities. This time, acting Mayor Yuri Kopylov was elected with 55 percent of the vote. His main opponent, Viktor Cherepkov, the city’s former mayor and a State Duma deputy, won only 25 percent.

Vladivostok’s political crisis has been long and deep even by the standards of Russian regional politics. It centered around a particularly ugly struggle between the governor of Primorsky krai, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, and his opponents. In time-honored fashion, Nazdratenko’s opponents joined forces around the institutions of local self-government in the regional capital, Vladivostok, and its mayor, Cherepkov. Mayoral elections were systematically disrupted. So bitter was the struggle that Vladivostok has been deprived of bodies of regional self-government since 1993 when, in the wake of his fight with the Russian parliament, President Yeltsin dissolved local self-government bodies throughout the country.

Nazdratenko and his supporters failed time and again either to get a group of deputies which suited them elected to the City Council or to get the governor’s protege, Kopylov, elected mayor. Kopylov had once been a supporter of Cherepkov and acted as his deputy, but later switched sides (NTV, June 18). Although a majority of voters supported Cherepkov, Nazdratenko’s team was able to marginalize the opposition and keep it out of power, while appointing Kopylov as acting mayor, despite his defeat at the polls.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that, had the final results of these latest elections not suited the governor, he would have found one reason or another to invalidate them. For example, the last mayoral election, which Cherepkov won, was annulled after the city’s election commission overturned its own earlier refusal to register one of the candidates. The election could then be declared illegal because this candidate had been illegally prevented from running.

At the beginning of June, there were reports that the krai administration was once again planting a “mine” underneath the impending elections, which would allow them to “explode” the election’s results at any moment. At around the same time, there were reports that massive vote fraud was being planned. On May 31, Aleksandr Raikov, leader of the People’s Deputy group in the State Duma, sent a letter to the Central Election Commission warning of planned fraud and asked for counter-measures to be taken (Russian agencies, May 31). The letter said that the People’s Deputy group had received warnings that a “massive falsification” of the results of Vladivostok’s elections was being planned and that, if a candidate not supported by the krai administration were to win, “the results of the elections might be cancelled, inasmuch as the [local] election commissions were appointed not by the krai election commission, as is required by law, but by the acting head of the city administration, Yuri Kopylov.” According to Raikov, there were no fewer than ten scenarios for overturning the results of the elections. In addition, Raikov said that the city authorities were trying to arrange for a third of the voters to vote early, in order later to substitute their ballots. Raikov said pressure, including threats of dismissal, was being put on state workers and those at municipal enterprises in Vladivostok to vote early.

The warnings that there would be massive early voting were soon confirmed. On June 1, seven of the nine candidates for Vladivostok mayor issued a joint warning about planned falsification and appealed to city residents not to vote early. The candidates charged that, in order to facilitate falsification, representatives of Yabloko, the Union of Right-Wing Forces and the “For Honest Elections” movement had been expelled from the election commissions. Cherepkov urged that President Putin be asked to stop this “bespredyel” (meaning the lawless exercise of power). In addition, Cherepkov unsuccessfully appealed to his opponents to put forward a single candidate for a “radical change of power in Vladivostok” (Russian agencies, June 1). Deputy Mayor Olga Korolkova countered that early voting was to be expected because election day coincided with the Orthodox holiday of the Trinity and was a state holiday–Medical Worker’s Day–and that even those who were not planning to celebrate these holidays would be heading to their dachas. It was for this reason, and not because of any pressure from the authorities, that people had decided to vote in advance, she said (Russian agencies, June 7). Meanwhile, witnesses reported seeing voters being taken to polling places in buses, and alleged that state enterprises had been given quotas for the number of their workers whom they should register as having voted early (Russian agencies, June 7).

On June 15, Cherepkov and four other candidates held a press conference at which they listed a series of procedural violations that had been carried out–for example, the infringement of the right to observe the course of the elections. “The falsification of the results of early voting for the Vladivostok mayor has already taken place,” declared Cherepkov. According to the press conference’s participants, no fewer than 30,000 people had voted early. They said they had failed to persuade the Prosecutor General’s Office to reestablish order.

The elections took place calmly. The only unusual feature was the fact that the polling stations opened up an hour late, because additional time was needed to process the unusually large number of ballots from early voting (NTV, June 18).

It is possible to conclude from all this that everything necessary from the point of view of mobilizing “administrative resources” was done to ensure Kopylov’s victory. Cherepkov’s team plans to try and get the results of the vote overturned (Russian agencies, June 19).