Residents of Saratov Oblast’s second largest city, Balakovo, are collecting signatures in support of their call for their district to leave the jurisdiction of Saratov Oblast. Instead, they say, they want to transfer to the jurisdiction of neighboring Samara Oblast (Polit.ru, February 7). The move has infuriated Saratov Governor Dmitry Ayatskov, who has long been at daggers drawn with Samara’s Governor Konstantin Titov. But the organizers of the petition are also angry. They accuse Ayatskov of robbing them of their constitutional right to vote (Samaraskov obozrenie, January 22).
The conflict arose during January’s election for the head of the municipal administration in Balakovo. The incumbent, Aleksei Saurin, had fallen foul of Ayatskov and attempts were allegedly made by the oblast authorities to prevent him from winning reelection. Just as Aleksandr Rutskoi was disqualified from the race for Kursk governor last year, an oblast court ordered Saurin’s name to be struck from the ballot. In Balakovo, however, the municipal election commission defied the court’s decision. Voting was accordingly conducted on January 14 with two versions of the ballot paper: one issued by the district authorities, which listed Saurin’s name, and another issued by the oblast authorities, which did not. The upshot was that the election was declared invalid. The next day, Governor Ayatskov removed Saurin from office and named his own associate, Valentin Timofeev, who had not even run in the election, as acting district head. Next, Ayatskov presided over a hastily convened meeting of the local council which amended the district charter and removed an article calling for the head of the municipal administration to be popularly elected; the article in question had been approved by popular referendum less than a year earlier. Finally, the deputies approved Timofeev as the new head of administration (Russian agencies, NTV, Moskovsky Komsomolets in Saratov, January 14-19).
Local citizens and NGOs, arguing that Ayatskov had robbed them of their voting rights, took the drastic step of gathering signatures calling for Balakovo to be transferred to the jurisdiction of Samara Oblast. At the latest count, they had collected 11,000 of their target 40,000 signatures (Krug [Balakovo], February 6).
The Russian Supreme Court will consider Ayatskov’s dismissal of Saurin on February 22. The court has also been asked to review the legality of the municipal council’s decision to amend the district charter. In addition, the State Duma, on the initiative of the Fatherland-All Russia faction, has asked the federal Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the matter (Russian agencies, January 19). For his part, Governor Ayatskov says two can play at this game: “I don’t rule it out that, if Balakovo winds up in Samara Oblast, the whole of Samara Oblast will eventually end up in Saratov Oblast,” Ayatskov has warned (Regions.ru, January 29).
BELARUS PEGS ITS RUBLE TO RUSSIAN.