Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 5

On January 6, the Republic of Altai ushered in the New Year with the first regional election of the year. Mikhail Lapshin, leader of the Agrarian Party of Russia (APR), which is closely allied with the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), won a run-off election to become the republic’s new president. According to preliminary results, Lapshin won 68 percent of the votes. His opponent, incumbent president Semyon Zubakin, won only 23 percent (Russian agencies, January 7). Zubakin is a member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS).

The outcome of the Altai race was already clear after the first round of voting, in which Zubakin lost to Lapshin by a margin of more than 8 percent (see the Monitor, December 18, 2001). Lapshin’s position was further strengthened when the governor of neighboring Altai Krai, Aleksandr Surikov, came out with a statement that Lapshin’s position was closer to the krai’s than Zubakin’s (Strana.ru, December 25, 2001). Because the krai is economically more powerful than the republic and has important financial interests there, Surikov’s message was not lost on the voters. It is nonetheless interesting to note that Surikov jumped onto the Lapshin bandwagon only after it became clear that Lapshin was likely to win. As recently as last November, Surikov accused Lapshin of wrecking the APR and warned that “there’d be hell to pay” if such a situation was repeated in the republic after Lapshin’s election (Altai Weekly Review, January 4). Faced with Lapshin’s likely victory, Surikov’s position suddenly changed.

Prior to the second round of voting, the possibility of low turnout was seen as the main threat to Lapshin: In the Republic of Altai, turnout must be 50 percent or higher for an election to be valid. (In most other Russian regions, the hurdle is 25 percent.) To achieve the requisite turnout and ensure that voters would be sober on election day, the republic’s government went to the length of declaring Saturday, January 5, a working day, and transferring the holiday to January 8, following Orthodox Christmas (NTV, January 4). The ruse seemed to work: Voting took place calmly and the required turnout was reported to have been reached by 6 pm (Russian agencies, January 6-7).

The victory of the Agrarian Lapshin over the right-wing Zubakin is politically interesting. But Aleksei Kara-Murza, chairman of the SPS political council, rushed to declare that Zubakin’s ouster was not a defeat for the SPS. Kara-Murza claimed that Zubakin was “only formally” a member of the SPS (Radio Ekho Moskvy, January 7). Lapshin appeared similarly disinclined to play the political card, preferring to speak only about his practical plans for the future of the republic. He will, he said, step down as chairman of the APR and concentrate exclusively on reviving agriculture in the Republic of Altai and developing tourism there (NTV.ru, January 7).