The identity of the two finalists who will compete in the second round of the gubernatorial election in Primorsky Krai on June 17 was finally settled this week. The results of the first round ran counter to the Kremlin’s wishes, and the subsequent attempt to get them overturned in court did not go the Kremlin’s way either. Sergei Darkin, virtually unknown head of the Roliz commercial fishing company, came first with 23.9 percent of the vote, while Viktor Cherepkov, the former mayor of Vladivostok who spearheaded the opposition to outgoing Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko, came second with 20 percent. The candidate who was supported by the Kremlin, Gennady Apanasenko, who is deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, came third with 14 percent (Russian agencies, May 28-30). That meant that Darkin and Cherepkov went into the second round.
The Kremlin’s first reaction was to try to change the composition of the final line-up. On May 28, the krai court heard several complaints against Darkin. He was accused, first, of buying votes. According to several witnesses, Darkin’s campaign workers handed out yellow T-shirts bearing the slogan “We have to live here” and called on the electorate to vote for Darkin (NTV, May 28). Second, Apanasenko complained that, when Darkin registered as a candidate, he failed to declare two cars he had recently sold (Lenta.ru, May 31). A third complaint alleged that Darkin had misused election funds to pay Vladivostok residents to clean litter from the streets (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 1). Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission, called these claims “not very solid” (RTR, May 29). Had any of them, however, been found to have been valid, Darkin would have been disqualified and Cherepkov would have faced Apanasenko in the run-off (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 31).
Darkin himself said that he was not afraid of the court case: “First, I have never been in court and don’t know what I should be afraid of; second, my lawyers see nothing serious in these violations” (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 30). In the end, the krai court found in Darkin’s favor (Russian agencies, June 1). Its decision could have been challenged in the country’s Supreme Court, but Apanasenko announced that he would drop the case and return to his previous duties (Polit.ru, June 1).
This decision may force the Kremlin to move to “Plan B”–to back Darkin in the run-off so as to prevent Cherepkov from winning. Sources in the presidential administration suddenly began to describe Darkin as “a candidate with whom we are ready to cooperate” (Izvestia, May 29). Putin’s team is reportedly prepared to back any candidate “as long as it is neither Cherepkov nor a Communist” (Vedomosti, May 29).
Darkin was in Moscow last week and, because no details of his trip were published, there were many rumors about what happened. According to one, Putin himself met with the entrepreneur (Lenta.ru, May 29). A presidential administration official later denied that account (Kommersant, May 30). What is not denied is that Darkin did visit the Kremlin and that, according to his own account, he met there with the head of the presidential administration, Aleksandr Voloshin (Kommersant, June 1). According to some reports, Darkin also met Voloshin’s deputy, Vladislav Surkov, who had earlier backed Apanasenko (Vedomosti, May 30). The Kremlin apparently grasped the fact that Darkin must remain in the race. Were he to be removed, disgusted voters would stay away in droves and the second round would be invalidated by low turnout (Vremya Novostei, May 29).
One other detail is worth noting. Until now, the Kremlin seemed to be motivated by the desire to undermine Nazdratenko and his team. However, many knowledgeable observers, Cherepkov included, see Darkin as a protege of the former governor (Polit.ru, May 27; Vedomosti, Izvestia, Polit.ru, NTV, May 29). Darkin himself has denied this, but few people believe him, especially because he announced that, if elected, he would nominate Nazdratenko to represent the krai in the Federation Council (Vedomosti, June 1). The newspaper Izvestia summed up the issue in the most pertinent manner: “Why go to all the trouble of removing Nazdratenko, if power is going to remain in the hands of his team?” (Izvestia, May 29).
GUBERNATORIAL THIRD-TERM STORY STILL BEING TOLD.