Voters rejected Kremlin-supported incumbents in gubernatorial elections on November 3 in Pskov and Magadan oblasts. These were the latest results in a series of regional elections across Russia, and suggest a new tendency by voters to reject government-approved candidates.
In remote Magadan oblast in Russia’s Far East, eight time zones away from Moscow, voters threw out the incumbent, Viktor Mikhailov, who had been in office since 1991. They replaced him with Valentin Tsvetkov, a local businessman. While Tsvetkov is not a Communist, his victory was facilitated by the fact that the Communist-dominated Popular-Patriotic Union (NPS) called on voters to support him. (RTR, November 4)
In Pskov oblast, in the north-western corner of Russia along the border with Estonia, Latvia and Belarus, the incumbent was rejected in favor of 33-year-old Yevgenii Mikhailov, a member of Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s quaintly named Liberal Democratic party (LDPR). Mikhailov was strongly supported by Zhirinovsky, who spent three days stumping the region, but he was also helped by the fact that the NPS gave him its support. (RTR, November 4) Popular discontent is high in Pskov, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the whole of Russia. There is a strong military presence in the region, which serves as base for the elite Pskov airborne division, and Zhirinovsky’s appeal has traditionally been high among military units.
It is too soon to conclude that voters have turned decisively against Kremlin-sponsored candidates, and many other elections have still to be held by year’s end. But suggestions of such a turn of heart are there. The first sign that the tide might turn came when incumbent Anatoly Sobchak was defeated in St. Petersburg in May, indicating that the heady era of democratic leaders was over. But Sobchak’s defeat was followed by a landslide victory for incumbent Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov in June, and another landslide for the incumbent in Saratov oblast on September 1. Dmitri Ayatskov’s victory in Saratov was interpreted as a sign that incumbents would be reelected in the post-presidential election honeymoon as long as they were perceived by voters to be pragmatists who could protect the interests of their regions.
But as Yeltsin’s sickness turned him into a lame duck president, and following his rescinding of the lavish election spending promises made during his presidential campaign, many voters began to feel that they had been duped. As the present series of regional elections progresses, voters seem increasingly to be turning to opposition candidates as a means of registering a protest vote. That would explain the election of Aleksandr Rutskoi in Kursk on October 20, the victory of the nationalist candidate in Kirov oblast on the same day, and last weekend’s elections in Pskov and Magadan. The total of "opposition" victories is still slightly lower than Kremlin-friendly ones. But there are lots more elections to come.
Russian Workers Plan Protests.