June 8 was the closing day for registering candidates in the race for the governorship of Nizhegorod Oblast. By the end of the day, twelve candidates had registered. Four were refused registration (Russian agencies, June 8). The main contenders are incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov, State Duma Deputy Dmitry Savelev and businessman Andrei Klimentev. Among those refused registration were Yury Lebedev, mayor of the regional capital Nizhny Novgorod, and Eduard Limonov, a controversial writer who heads the National Bolshevik party.
What happened in Lebedev’s case was unprecedented in the history of Russian elections. The mayor was refused registration following allegations by the Interior Ministry that his supporters had employed “administrative pressure” to gather the requisite signatures in support of his candidacy (Lenta.ru, May 30; Kommersant, May 31). It is common knowledge that so-called administrative resources are used massively in Russian elections, but this appears to be the first time anyone had been disqualified on that score. Lebedev would probably not have been disqualified had his political ambitions not collided with those of a more powerful candidate–incumbent Governor Sklyarov.
Lebedev did not abandon the campaign. On June 8 he filed suit, demanding that the election commission’s refusal to register him be overturned. He denied that his supporters had violated election law and called the refusal to register him “an action planned in advance” (Polit.ru, June 8). The upshot was that a real war was unleashed. Documents were leaked to the Nizhny Novgorod city Duma, which is not under the mayor’s control, alleging that Lebedev used taxpayer’s money when he stayed in a luxury Moscow hotel costing US$480 a night (Nizhegorodskie Novosti [Nizhny Novgorod], June 8).
Limonov’s registration was rejected on more prosaic grounds. According to the regional electoral commission, only 9,294 of the 31,644 signatures submitted in support of Limonov’s candidacy were genuine, and this was not enough to secure his registration as a candidate (Lenta.ru, June 4). Limonov’s party says its will appeal. As for Limonov, he is languishing in prison on a weapons charge (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 5). As some observers have pointed out, Andrei Klimentev won the Nizhny Novgorod mayor’s race in 1998 while he was in prison, but the results were nullified and he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for misusing a Finance Ministry credit (Kommersant, May 31; see also the Monitor, June 4).
Klimentev is now running for governor and that, apparently, is causing nervousness not just within Sklyarov’s team. The State Duma, at the initiative of the pro-Putin Unity faction, has taken under consideration a law that would prevent anyone who has not served his full term for a criminal conviction from running for state office (Radio Ekho Moskvy, June 5). Viktor Pokhmelkin, deputy chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Forces’ faction in the Duma, says that this bill may be aimed at preventing Klimentev from participating in the Nizhegorod governor’s race, given that he was released from prison early and the charges against him have not been dropped (Polit.ru, June 5).
In the meantime, Klimentev remains in the race, as does Dmitry Savelev, who has unleashed a ferocious PR campaign against Sklyarov. Yet the potential candidate that Sklyarov’s team most feared has not joined the race. The signature drive on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, oligarch and head of the Siberian Aluminum Company, which owns 26 percent of Nizhegorod’s Gorky Automobile Factory (GAZ), has come to nothing. Deripaska thanked the oblast residents who backed him, but said that he had not initiated the signature drive (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 30). This turn of events, of course, by no means guarantees that Sklyarov will win a second term. But his chances for holding on to his job have risen significantly.
SHAIMIEV PLAYS THE NATIONALIST CARD AGAIN.