The election campaign in the Saratov oblast, where three candidates will compete on September 1 for the post of governor, is becoming intense. The incumbent governor, Dmitri Ayatskov, has taken a leaf out Boris Yeltsin’s book and is using all the advantages of his position to monopolize the local media during the campaign. He has refused to take part in a televised debate with his Communist challenger, Anatoly Gordeev, just as Yeltsin refused to debate his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, during Russia’s recent presidential campaign. In addition, Ayatskov has introduced a number of populist measures aimed at fostering approval among local residents. In a move modeled on the Moscow municipality, for example, he has dignified the Saratov regional administration by renaming it the "government" of Saratov.
Ayatskov pulled off a master stroke on August 13, when Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov visited the Saratov oblast at the head of an official delegation and ceremonially signed an agreement on economic cooperation between the city of Moscow and the Saratov oblast. According to Monitor’s correspondent in Saratov, Luzhkov promised that Moscow will buy Saratov’s agricultural produce as well as some of the region’s chemical products; he also hinted that Moscow will help Saratov to exploit its energy resources. Luzhkov appears to be doing something akin to what he did during the gubernatorial election in St. Petersburg in May, when he supported the campaign of Vladimir Yakovlev against incumbent mayor Anatoly Sobchak; following Yakovlev’s victory, Luzhkov visited St. Petersburg and signed a cooperation agreement between the two cities. (See Monitor, July 9) One of Ayatskov’s campaign promises is that he will defend the interests of the Saratov Oblast against the federal government; Luzhkov appears to be building a coalition of provincial leaders who can join forces to lobby the central government in defense of their regional interests.
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