Publication: Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 164

The Kremlin is cock-a-hoop over the victory of its favorite in the September 1 gubernatorial election in Saratov oblast. The 45-year-old incumbent Dmitry Ayatskov, who fought an energetic and aggressive campaign with strong Moscow backing, romped home with 81.3 percent of the vote. His Communist challenger got only 16.3 percent. The relatively high voter turnout (60 percent) bore out the received wisdom that, the higher the turnout, the better the result for pro-government candidates. (Reports from the Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov)

This was the first time Saratov had ever elected its governor, but the election was also the first in a series of 52 gubernatorial elections that will take place by the end of the year, by which time all of Russia’s 89 regions are required by law to have held democratic elections.

Presidential chief-of-staff Anatoly Chubais hailed Ayatskov’s victory as an event "of not merely regional but national importance." He told journalists that the communists are on the ropes: in 26 of the 52 regions where elections are to take place, he claimed, the Communist Party is unable to put up a serious opponent. (RTR, September 2) Chubais is expected in Saratov on Saturday for Ayatskov’s inauguration.

The Kremlin had promised that, if Ayatskov was reelected, Saratov oblast would be allowed negotiate a power-sharing treaty with the Russian Federation, along the lines pioneered by Tatarstan in 1994. Since then, a string of such treaties have been signed between the federal center and the regions. At first, they served the desired purpose of preventing the emergence of Chechen-type secessionist tendencies in Russia’s other ethnically-based republics. More recently, they have been signed by oblasts and krais too. The question arises whether they have not now become, in the words Mark Twain used of France’s Legion of Honor, "an honor that few escape." The texts of those signed so far this year have been virtually identical, with any regional differences concealed in supplementary agreements that are rarely published and may even be treated as classified information. The Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov says that the idea of a power-sharing treaty has therefore aroused little excitement in Saratov itself, with most people seeing it as just another publicity stunt in support of Ayatskov’s election campaign.

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