Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 146

The first round of voting in the election for governor of Irkutsk Oblast was a much more modest affair than the Nizhegorod Oblast runoff. Quite unaccompanied by events of national significance, the contest was won by the incumbent governor, Boris Govorin, who received some 45 percent of the vote. Sergei Levchenko, leader of the local Communists, came second with 24 percent. Third was the Federation Council member for the region, Valentin Mezhevich, with about 12 percent. Govorin will now face Levchenko in a run-off, which is expected to be held on August 19 (Russian agencies, July 30).

The battle was not a clean one, however. Most commentators expected Govorin to win; some even thought he would do so in the first round. Govorin struck his first blow against his opponents in April, when he managed to replace the management of the regional energy supplier, Irkutskenergo. By taking the company under his control, Govorin deprived his main challenger, speaker of the local legislature Valentin Mezhevich, of a significant source of financing (Kommersant-Vlast, July 24). Oleg Mironov, Russia’s human rights ombudsman, was moved officially to accuse the Irkutsk Oblast “power agencies” [law enforcement agencies] of putting “systematic pressure on citizens who were exercising their legal right to support opposition candidates… and on those who had deposited money of the special election accounts of candidates” (Trud-7, July 26). An edition of the color tabloid “Russky Vostok” went so far as to describe Mezhevich as an “enemy of the human race” (Komsomolskaya Pravda, July 25). Evidence suggested that the governor’s administration was behind the attacks on Mezhevich, who lodged an official complaint with the Central Electoral Commission (Novaya Gazeta, July 26).

Govorin’s enemies, not to be outdone, went to court to get him disqualified from the election. [Had this ruse succeeded, it would have resembled last October’s gubernatorial election in Kursk Oblast, when the incumbent governor, former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi, was removed from the ballot by court order only twenty-four hours before voting was due to take place.] Four candidates complained that Governor Govorin had not gone on leave, as Russian law requires, and had thereby violated the rules for campaigning. However, the position of Govorin, who is described by opponents of having an authoritarian leadership style, seems secure, and the federal center appeared to have nothing against his re-election. The “Kursk scenario” was not therefore replayed in Irkutsk and on July 29 a court rejected all of the complaints against the governor (Russian agencies, July 29).