Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 145

Russian voters will go to the polls on Sunday (July 27) to elect a new governor of Irkutsk oblast in east-central Siberia. The election was called after the surprise resignation in April of incumbent governor Yury Nozhikov, the first democratically elected Russian governor to step down voluntarily. Nozhikov was popular in the oblast because of the determination he displayed in standing up for the region’s interests. Nozhikov gave two reasons for his resignation, one of which was ill health. But he also said he was giving up because he was powerless to prevent the deterioration of living standards in the oblast.

By Russian standards, Irkutsk is a success story — one of only eleven regions prosperous enough to pay more into the federal budget than it receives back in subsidies. But Nozhikov said he was depressed by his inability to help the region’s coalminers. He told a television interviewer how depressed he felt "when the miners came here and asked whether I had had my salary. And they had not been paid for six months. They asked me how they were supposed to live. And I had no answer to give them. That’s when I wrote my resignation." (NTV, July 20) In another demonstration of the problems facing the region, local doctors have offered to sell their votes to any candidate who pays them the nine months’ wage arrears owed to them.

Seven candidates are running for election. Currently tipped to win is the mayor of the city of Irkutsk, Boris Govorin, who has the support of the pro-government "Russia is Our Home." In second place is the candidate backed by Aleksandr Lebed’s Russian People’s Republican Party, Ivan Shchadov. Lebed has been campaigning in the region, hoping for a repetition of the election of his candidate as mayor of Samara two weeks ago. Shchadov is director of the huge local coalmining enterprise, Vossibugol. As the son of the former USSR minister of the coal industry, he is also a member of the old Soviet aristocracy. He is running a slick campaign with the help of a Moscow "image-maker" ("imidzhmeiker" is now a Russian word). In third place is Sergei Levchenko, first secretary of the oblast Communist Party organization, who has Communist and nationalist backing. (Itar-Tass, July 23)

The campaign has been marked by an unusually high level of smears, circulated in the form of anonymous letters. Russian elections have been bitterly fought in the past but this one seems to have sunk to a new low. The letters say Mayor Govorin is corrupt, Shchadov is fond of seducing little girls, and Levchenko was thrown out of the Soviet army for homosexual activity. All the candidates deny the charges. (NTV, July 20)

Yeltsin Gives Up on Parliament.