An election-related scandal broke out in Rostov-on-Don on August 28, when the oblast election commission refused to register Leonid Ivanchenko, a State Duma deputy and leader of the region’s communists, as a candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election, which is set for September 23. The election commission claimed that 11.2 percent of the signatures gathered in support of Ivanchenko’s candidacy were “of doubtful authenticity.” According to Russian election law, a potential candidate can be refused registration if 10 percent or more of the signatures gathered in support of his candidacy are questionable (Russian agencies, August 28). Ivanchenko filed a protest with the Central Election Commission over his disqualification and said that he would contest it in court, charging that Rostov Oblast election commission’s verification of signatures submitted on his behalf by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) was “groundlessly harsh” and used incorrect information provide by the passport-visa service (RTR, August 28; Radio Ekho Moskvy, Polit.ru, August 30). Some of Ivanchenko’s party comrades went further: Valentin Kuptsov, the first deputy head of the KPRF’s central committee and State Duma faction, said it could not be ruled out that the team of Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub had developed a “special technology” for making signature lists of rival candidates appear to have been falsified (Polit.ru, August 28). Chub has already been registered as a candidate.
The scandal heated up even more this week, when the Rostov Oblast prosecutor’s office announced that it had begun a criminal investigation to determine whether members of the initiative group that put forward Ivanchenko’s candidacy falsified his signature lists (NTV.ru, September 3). In response, KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov said that his party could prove that the Rostov election commission had fabricated the grounds on which Ivanchenko was disqualified. Zyuganov claimed that KPRF specialists in Rostov had uncovered documentary evidence that the oblast election commission had falsified information related to at least 130 voters who had signed lists in support of Ivanchenko and whose signatures were subsequently deemed to be fabrications (Polit.ru, September 4). The communists have also claimed that the federal authorities had a hand in Ivanchenko’s disqualification. Last week, the KPRF’s Duma faction charged that Chub had “enlisted support in certain offices of the Kremlin,” given that “he could not have dared [carry out] such forgery without support” (Polit.ru, August 29).
Some media, however, have alleged that Vladimir Titarenko, one of Ivanchenko’s comrade-in-arms in the Rostov branch of the People’s Patriotic Union, the leftwing coalition that includes the KPRF, was responsible for Ivanchenko’s disqualification. Both men served as co-chairmen of the local People’s Patriotic Union branch, but later quarreled, after which Titarenko was removed from its leadership. According to some reports, Titarenko decided to get revenge by contacting the oblast’s election commission and claiming that Ivanchenko’s election team had failed to collect a sufficient number of signatures and thus had resorted to falsification (Polit.ru, August 29). The Rostov election commission spent five days carefully checking the candidate’s signature lists, during which officials accompanied by police went to homes to interview those whose signatures were in doubt. According to the commission, some voters indicated their signatures had been falsified while others were discovered to have signed the lists on behalf of relatives (Vremya Novostei, August 29).
Wherever truth lies amid the accusations and counteraccusations, there is little doubt that the incumbent governor has benefited from Ivanchenko’s disqualification. While in Rostov’s last gubernatorial contest, in 1997, Ivanchenko won more than 30 percent of the vote, with Chub winning 60 percent, the Communists now say that they have polling data showing that support for Ivanchenko and Chub is evenly split (Izvestia, August 29 (NNS.ru, August 28).). This must have scared the governor’s team, especially in light of the KPRF victory recently in the Nizhegorod Oblast gubernatorial elections and the near-victory of the communist candidate in Irkutsk. Meanwhile, Ivanchenko’s disqualification apparently set a precedent: Immediately after he was refused registration as a candidate, another potential candidate with a real base of support, Valentin Chistyakov, general director of the Travers and Vityaz companies, was refused registration on the same grounds. Now, given that Chub’s main challengers have been taken out of the race, the incumbent Rostov governor’s re-election appears to be preordained. Chub’s only challenger will be Pyotr Voloshin, deputy head of the administration of the oblast’s Zimovnikovsk district. Voloshin is considered to be a protege of the governor who forward his candidacy simply to give the contest the appearance of being genuinely competitive in the event that all the other candidates dropped out (Kommersant, August 29). According to Russian law, there must be at least two candidates in an election for it to be considered lawful.
Besides being in Chub’s interest, Ivanchenko’s disqualification was also in that of the federal authorities, given the open gulf separating the Kremlin and the left. As one newspaper noted, “handing over a strategically important region to a Zyuganov deputy would have been excessive.” The paper, however, also noted that the developments in Rostov show that “the Center has once again failed to find a real alternative to the existing regional elite” (Vek, August 31).
Some observers have even speculated that the local authorities may have a change of heart and allow Ivanchenko to register as a candidate. The reason for this is that even members of Chub’s team, off the record, have expressed concern that Ivanchenko’s disqualification could lead many voters to assume the outcome of the vote is predetermined and stay home on election day. This raises the possibility that the contest will be nullified due to insufficient turnout (Izvestia, August 29).
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