Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 68

On March 26, the same day as the Russian presidential election, gubernatorial elections were held in seven of the country’s eighty-nine regions (“federal subjects”). Governors were elected in Altai Krai; Kirov, Murmansk and Saratov Oblasts; the Khanty-Mansi and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Districts; and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Like the presidential contest, these elections took place earlier than officially and originally scheduled. They were moved up from the latter part of the year in part because the positions of the incumbent governors had weakened and in part because their relations with the federal Center had worsened as a result of the change of Kremlin leadership.

In all seven regions, the incumbent governor won re-election for a second term in a single round of voting (Russian agencies, March 27). Aleksandr Filipenko won in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District with 90.7 percent of the vote. Yuri Neelov in Yamalo-Nenets with 87.9 percent, Yuri Yevdokimov in Murmansk Oblast with 86.7 percent, Aleksandr Surikov in Altai Krai with 76.8 percent, Dmitri Ayatskov in Saratov Oblast with 67.4 percent, Vladimir Sergeenkov in Kirov Oblast with 58.6 percent, and Nikolai Volkov in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with 56.8 percent.

This bias in favor of the incumbent was achieved thanks to a grand sweep of the electoral field carried out by the teams of the incumbent governors.

In Saratov, for example, Governor Ayatskov had long been expected to run against Valery Rashkin, a State Duma deputy and leader of the local Communist Party organization. Rashkin was considered a strong challenger. However, on the final day for candidates to register, the oblast electoral commission suddenly barred Rashkin, citing violations allegedly committed by Rashkin’s team in gathering signatures in support of his candidacy. Rashkin appealed to the Saratov Oblast court and to Russia’s Supreme Court, neither of which found any fault with the electoral commission’s ruling. Rashkin is appealing to the presidium of the Supreme Court, but his chances of getting the election results overturned are minimal.

In the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous District, Sergei Atroshenko, leader of the Russian Party of Pensioners, was originally seen as a strong opponent for incumbent Governor Filipenko. Atroshenko was supported not only by the Governor of Tyumen Oblast, which has been waging a long campaign to reassert control over the resource-rich autonomous district which is, in theory, subordinate to the oblast, but also, according to some reports, by the Sibneft oil company. This alarmed two other oil majors, LUKoil and Surgutneftegaz, which were supporting Filipenko. Though Atroshenko’s opinion poll ratings did not reach higher than 15 percent, the regional authorities apparently decided to get rid of him. As in Saratov, the regional electoral commission suddenly discovered that Atroshenko had committed various violations, most serious of which was using his election fund to publish a brochure in support of Putin. As a result, Filipenko’s only real rival was eliminated from the race. Atroshenko has not even tried to challenge the electoral commission’s decision.

Thing were different in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, where incumbent Governor Neelov had the situation under such tight control that he had no real rival at all. So as not to fall foul of Russian electoral law, which outlaws single-candidate elections, Neelov even had to get one of his own subordinates to run against him. Otherwise, the election might have been at risk of nullification. Until December, Neelov had been expected to be challenged by a longstanding opponent, Vladimir Gomon, who was said to have been given the Kremlin’s go-ahead to challenge Neelov. Neelov is a personal friend of Rem Vyakhirev, chairman of gas giant Gazprom. Reportedly, the Kremlin was unhappy with Neelov for allegedly pursuing Gazprom’s interests at the expense of the state’s and the region’s.