The second round of Primorsky Krai’s gubernatorial election took place on June 17, marking the end of a campaign that attracted attention from Russian politicians and mass media. According to preliminary data, the winner was Sergei Darkin, the director of Roliz, a local commercial fishing company, who received 40.3 percent of the vote and is reportedly close to outgoing Governor Yevgeny Nazdratenko. His opponent, Gennady Apanasenko, deputy presidential representative in the Far Eastern federal district, won 24.3 percent of the vote. Apanasenko received fewer votes than those cast “against all” candidates–33.5 percent (Lenta.ru, June 17).
This result was not unexpected, given last week’s court decision disqualifying former Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov as a candidate. Cherepkov’s place was taken by Apanasenko, who had come in third in the first round of voting (see the Monitor, June 14). Earlier, the press reported that President Vladimir Putin’s team was ready to support any candidate so long as it was “not a communist and not Cherepkov” (Vedomosti, May 29). Apparently the Kremlin believed that, were the former Vladivostok mayor to win, war would break out between the krai leadership and the federal center (Kommersant, May 22). In addition, it was generally understood that Cherepkov, who had spearheaded the opposition to former Governor Nazdratenko, was the least acceptable candidate for Nazdratenko’s supporters, who remain highly influential in the region. Commentators asserted that the Kremlin had two options: to annul the results of the Primorye election or to reach an understanding with Darkin (Vedomosti, May 29). It apparently managed to reach an understanding with Darkin despite the fact that some national media declared him “Nazdratenko’s protege” and that the election campaign was waged under the banner of a confrontation between the Kremlin and the former governor’s team (Izvestia, May 29).
Cherepkov was disqualified from the race for violating the regulations on election campaigning (see the Monitor, June 14). Until the eve of the election, there seemed a chance he would persuade the Supreme Court to overturn his disqualification (Polit.ru, June 15). The court, however, failed to find in Cherepkov’s favor. As a result, Darkin and Apanasenko went into the second round (Russian agencies, June 15-16). After this, there was little doubt what the election result would be. Apanasenko summed up the situation when he agreed to participate in the run-off: He told journalists that the decision to disqualify Cherepkov three days before election day was a “well-planned action” in favor of Darkin, whom Apanasenko called a Nazdratenko protege. “This was done,” Apanasenko alleged, “in order to save Darkin from a battle with a strong opponent and to create unequal conditions for the new candidate, who had carried out no campaign agitation following the first round” (Polit.ru, June 14).
This left the remaining contestants with nothing more to worry about than whether the turnout would be high enough to validate the election and how many voters would tick the box “against all.” Only the chairman of the Central Election Commission, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, said he was certain the election would go through (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 14). His subordinate Vyacheslav Uvarov held the opposite view, as did Sergei Knyazev, chairman of the Primorsky Election Commission (Polit.ru, June 15). Cherepkov also cried nay, accusing Nazdratenko of plotting to thwart the election and calling the former governor “Figure Number One in the current election race.” Cherepkov said he believed that Nazdratenko was trying to keep open the possibility of participating himself in new elections in December (NTV, June 15). For all that, Cherepkov’s supporters urged voters to vote “against all” (NNS.ru, June 14). Fears that the election would be thwarted proved misplaced. Turnout exceeded 25 percent, and those who voted “against all” turned out to be fewer than those who voted for Darkin. This meant that the vote was valid (Russian agencies, June 17). It is nonetheless true that Cherepkov, among others, could still challenge the election’s results (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, June 15). Normally such protests come to nothing, but the situation in Primorye is not normal. On June 15, indeed, the krai Duma announced plans to challenge the results of the election (Lenta.ru, June 15). This increases the possibility that the election will have to be held again.
In any case, Primorye has become a world record holder in terms of elections: Over the last five years, forty-three elections of various kinds have been held, in which 2,123 candidates have run (Ekspert, June 14).
PUTIN HOISTED WITH HIS OWN PETARD?