Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 122

The race for the governorship of Primorsky Krai has entered what is essentially a third and final round–in the courts. A runoff election took place on June 17 and was won by Sergei Darkin, director of a local commercial fishing company, with slightly over 40 percent of the vote. Darkin is viewed as the protege of the region’s former governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, and the nominee of the regional elite who stood behind Nazdratenko during his years in power. Local politicians and observers expressed doubts about the election results, but so far Darkin has fended off all attacks. On June 21, a regional court rejected a complaint by Viktor Cherepkov, whose name had been removed from the ballot between the first and second rounds (Polit.ru, June 21). Four days later, Darkin was officially sworn in as the region’s new governor (Russian agencies, June 21, 25).

The struggle did not end there, however, but merely moved to a new arena. Although his legal appeal was rejected, Cherepkov still represents a significant threat for Darkin. Formerly mayor of Vladivostok, the regional capital, Cherepkov came second in the first round and would have been Darkin’s challenger in the second round had he not been disqualified from the race on charges of violating electoral law. Cherepkov’s fault was to have given a radio interview without paying for it from his election fund. Yet Darkin spoke on the same radio program without paying: Indeed, each candidate got twenty-two minutes of free airtime. Cherepkov is now insisting that Darkin should also have been disqualified (Polit.ru, June 18). Darkin’s supporters counter that Darkin did not engage in election campaigning by speaking on the radio, whereas that Cherepkov did. In the words of one sardonic commentator, Darkin spoke merely “out of love for the art of radio” (Polit.ru, June 21). Cherepkov has also accused Darkin of having links to the criminal world and alleges that Darkin’s associates were planning his physical elimination (Lenta.ru, June 18).

The court paid little heed to such subtleties. It rejected Cherepkov’s appeal and refused to admit evidence submitted by another local legislator, Vladimir Gilgenberg, consisting of two interviews granted by Darkin to the national newspapers Kommersant and Izvestia (Russian agencies, June 21). Gilgenberg immediately threatened that he would take his appeal, if need be, all the way to the Russian Supreme Court (Polit.ru, June 21). As for Darkin, he responded mildly enough that he did not expect his victory to be overturned in court. “All of my campaign actions were okayed by experienced lawyers,” he said (Kommersant, June 19).

Many observers agree with Darkin, noting that a review of the election results would set a dangerous precedent for the powers-that-be and is therefore unlikely to be tolerated. During last year’s presidential election campaign, an interview with Vladimir Putin was published that was not paid for out of his campaign fund. If Darkin’s victory were ruled illegal, doubt could be cast on the legitimacy of the Russian president himself (Kommersant, June 22). Just before the court delivered its decision, indeed, Putin expressed his satisfaction that the “election epic” was over and urged support for Primorye’s new leader (Lenta.ru, June 18).