Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 24

Russia’s Governors Have More Influence in Elections Than Realized

by Andrei Zhukov

Little attention has been paid to the fact that the regional governors–i.e., the executive branch leaders of the Russian Federation’sregions — could have a marked effect on the outcome of the parliamentaryelections scheduled for December. Regional governors, like thechief executive in Moscow, enjoy far greater power than the legislatures,controlling the financial, military and police structures in theirregion. They are truly "masters" of their universe.

A graphic, if slightly exaggerated, example of the character ofthe current Russian political process was the recent re-electionof Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to the presidency of Kalmykia, a republicof the Russian Federation. Ilyumzhinov, who has now had his presidentialpowers extended for another seven years, was the only candidatein the election and received 84 percent of the votes cast. Ilyumzhinovmanaged this stunning victory by making use of the tools at hisdisposal as incumbent. Over the last two years, he has managedto create solid economic and security forces to support his regime.Ilyumzhinov controls, through his relatives and close friends,all of the republic’s wool exports. He has established a "Kalmykia"corporation and a Kirsan Ilyumzhinov Charity Fund. Recent auditsrevealed embezzlements totaling 40 billion rubles in the republic:if not a party to this himself, he most certainly condones thisactivity, even if by the absence of any measures to halt the corruption.One third of the members of the republic’s parliament were appointedby him. The president fires and hires enterprise directors, andhis own men (the "alkhachi," or "representatives")are present in every district, city, or settlement of the republic.

In fact, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov has come to resemble a Central Asiankhan. He even announced that he was "presenting" asa gift a four hectare plot of land in the Kalmykian capital toSaddam Hussein, apparently forgetting that his republic is a subjectof the Russian Federation and not his own personal khanate.

This process is evident, though not so graphically manifested,in other Federation subjects. The overwhelming majority of thechiefs of the regional administration were appointed to theirpositions by the Russian president. They were chosen on the basisof personal loyalty and were seen as a major "instrument"for the president’s political rule. Therefore, this level of governmentwas granted vast powers.

It is common for the local executive branch leaders to get controlof the most profitable enterprises present on their territoriesby transferring them into "municipal ownership." (Infact, this practice is recognized by Federation Council ChairmanVladimir Shumeiko in his book Russian Reforms and Federalism).Furthermore, regional governors can influence the appointmentand removal of local and regional prosecutors and judges.

The regional executive power structures also enjoy considerableinfluence with the federal military units stationed on their territories.There is evidence that some regional administrations provide financialassistance to the military units deployed on their territories,though this has not been confirmed by official sources. Moreover,municipal police squads and "guards" of various kinds(for example, the militia formations of the "Ittifak"nationalistic and extremist organization in Tatarstan) are beingformed. Although comprised of volunteers, such paramilitary unitsare fairly professional and are subordinate only to the localadministration.

Do the local administration heads have their own interest in theupcoming parliamentary elections? Obviously they do. Many regionalleaders have entered one or another election blocs or movements.Most are members of Chernomyrdin’s "Russia is Our Home"(ROH). ROH’s federal list of nominees contains the names of morethan 30 governors and their deputies. A number of ROH regionaldivisions are headed by the respective regional administrationchiefs. For example, Moscow region governor Anatoly Tyazhlov,Leningrad region governor Alexander Belyakov, Voronezh regiongovernor Alexander Kovalev, and Samara region governor AlexanderTitov.

Obviously, some republic leaders have joined a federal party forthe Duma elections, not out of any devotion to shared principles,but for self-interest. For example, Anatoly Rakitov, an adviserto the Chief of Presidential Administration, insists that Kaliningradregion governor Yuri Matochkin supports the prime minister’s blocfor one reason only: because Viktor Chernomyrdin favors grantingmore independence to the Kaliningrad region. Kabardino-Balkarianpresident Valery Kokov is also counting on receiving somethingin return from the prime minister.

Other regional bosses support the ROH merely in order to havetheir appointees brought to the Duma or to eliminate their localopposition. In Kalmykia, for example, it is extremely likely thatIlyumzhinov’s protege and ROH republican branch leader VyacheslavBembetov will win election to the Duma, defeating Bembi Khulkhachiev,the incumbent Duma deputy and a vehement critic of Ilyumzhinov.

In a number of regions, the "party of power" is notthe favorite. Some regional bosses (notably Irkutsk regional governorYuri Nozhikov) sympathize with the "Transfiguration of theFatherland" bloc created by Sverdlovsk regional governorEdward Rossel, who defeated the ROH candidate Alexei Strakhovin the recent gubernatorial elections. The ROH rating is verylow in the Irkutsk region, where local newspapers publish numerousreports highlighting incidents of corruption in the regional powerstructures by politicians who are members of the ROH.

The ROH is also struggling to win support in the Orenburg region.There the ROH regional division is headed by ONAKO oil companydirector Rem Khramov. The ROH leadership in Moscow had apparentlyexpected that the financial resources and political influenceof ONAKO would help the bloc. But the Congress of Russian Communities(KRO), a moderately nationalistic party headed by former secretaryof the Security Council Yuri Skokov and retired Lt. General AleksandrLebed, has unexpectedly become a formidable opponent there. Thismight be explained by the fact that the highly popular mayor ofOrenburg, Gennady Donkovtsev, is a KRO member. Donkovtsev activelyassisted the opening of the Neplyuev Cadet College and took partin the preparation of Culture and Spiritual Enlightenment Days.These activities have made him a strong candidate.

KRO has received support from regional governors in Mordovia,Mari-El, Tatarstan, Bashkiria, Karelia, Udmurtia and Chuvashia.However, this support is not as strong as it could have been.Moscow has managed to offset separatist trends in these republicsby either signing treaties on separation of powers between thecenter and republic or promising to do so. In addition to theabove mentioned group, the list of KRO supporters includes a numberof city and district administration heads.

Other governors are showing signs of nostalgia for the communists.For example, Federation Council Deputy Anatoly Fedoseyev toldme that in his region, the Komi-Perm autonomous region, the chiefof administration sympathizes with the Communists and assiststhe local Communist candidate in his campaign work. Significantly,the governor’s assistance enables the party to locate office space,procure office equipment and organize campaign meetings more easily.

Another category of the administration chiefs are those who planto hold, and win, gubernatorial elections in their regions onDecember 17th, i.e., simultaneously with the State Duma election.These governors (the group numbers appropriately a dozen) areseeking to have their potential rivals for the post of governordragged into the State Duma election campaign in order to clearthe way for themselves.

This is the strategy being pursued, for example, by Yaroslavlregional governor Anatoly Lisitsyn. Although according to theRegional Statute, (a kind of a regional constitution) gubernatorialelections in the Yaroslavl region are to be held in October 1996,Mr. Lisitsyn, taking advantage of the local Duma’s docility andof the situation where all his potential rivals started campaigningfor the State Duma, promoted the adoption of a resolution re-schedulinggubernatorial elections in the region for December 17, 1995.

Thus the regional governors, as well as local executive branchleaders, will do their best to help candidates of their favoredparties to be victorious: Some will do this out of ideals andothers out of servility (or out of spite) for the center.

How can these people affect the results of the elections?

The impact of regional governors was evident in some regions duringthe first stage of the election race (the collection of signatureson nominating petitions). In the city of Anadyr, the local chiefof administration issued an instruction (which was dispatchedto the enterprises and military units of the city) not to admitrepresentatives and not to sign nominating petitions of any partiesand blocs except for "Russia is Our Home." AnLDPR candidate and representatives from the Democratic Russia–FreeTrade Unions bloc were not admitted to enter the military unitsstationed in Anadyr to collect signatures on their nominatingpetitions while representatives from "Russia Is Our Home"were given a "green light."

In the Tver region, at the order of the local chief of administration,the regional election commission (which was formed by the governor)granted an official registration to only six out of the totalof 34 candidates. Moreover, the nominating petitions of the RussianCommunist Party nominee (who is the major rival to the local chiefof administration) were rejected (without checking) and immediatelyeliminated by registrars of the regional election commission.

In the Tula region, KRO co-chairman Aleksandr Lebed, taking advantageof his friendship with regional chief of administration N. V.Sevryugin, appeared on the local television and radio, even beforethe election campaign was officially open, to promote his bloc.Only Lebed and his associates were allowed to collect signatureson their nominating petitions in the Tula Airborne Troops Divisionand Tula Artillery Academy. At the order of the regional chiefof administration, these military facilities were "closed"for all other parties and movements.

The number of such cases is not limited to these few examples.It is clear that since the very first stage of the race, the governorshave proven their ability to influence election results, specificallyto exclude unwanted nominees.

On the basis of their behavior so far, we can predict that inthis second stage of the election campaign the governors willconcentrate their attention on arranging promotional advantagesfor favored candidates, and will also grant or withhold the relevantwork conditions (office space, equipment, etc.).

The ultimate impact of these regional and local administrationpolitical leaders on the voting results may turn out quite tragicfor society. A well-known sociologist, Aleksandr Sobyanin (ofthe "Russia’s Democratic Choice–United Democrats" bloc)says that in the calculation of the total number of voters inthe Russian federation, the Central Election Commission used theinformation provided by the regional chiefs of administration.The regions purposely understated population figures, accordingto Sobyanin. Because, according to the information given to theCentral Election Commission, the number of eligible voters hasdecreased by 2.5 million since April, 1993. According to the statestatistics committee this figure cannot be higher than 300,000.

The fraudulent population figures have a number of advantagesfor the regions. First, in this time of extreme voter apathy,it is difficult for districts to reach the required 25 percentvoter participation level. Since the eligible voter figures areunderstated, a 15 percent turnout of voters in the electoral district,will, say, be reflected as a 25 percent turnout in the officialstatistics. In view of today’s apolitical electorate, when eventhe participation of the 25 percent of the population requiredto consider the elections valid is in doubt, such precautionsseem to have some use.

In addition, the fraudulent numbers make it easier to manipulatethe number of votes cast without raising suspicions. If the numberof voters is low, even a small change in the number of ballotpapers can have a change the outcome of the elections: two orthree blocs may not have enough votes, or somebody may clear thefive-percent barrier, as the result of the addition or subtractionof a few ballot papers.

Previous elections confirm Sobyanin’s opinion that the local leaderswill be "playing the same game." He claims that in the1993 parliamentary elections, in addition to the manipulationof the percentage of voters as described above, more votes wereallocated first to the Communists (KPRF) and to the Liberal DemocraticParty led by the ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, thanwere actually cast.

Sociologist Sobyanin claims that the republics in the Far Easthave understated the number of eligible voters to the greatestdegree. The point is, he explains, that in the Far East the calculationof ballots will begin 10 hours before it will begin in EuropeanRussia. "The reported results of the voter turnout and dispositionof forces in the Far East," Sobyanin explained, "willdefinitely affect the work of Election Commissions in EuropeanRussia. "If the reported voter turnout figure in the FarEast will be overstated by 10 percent, which we expect, the ElectionCommissions in European Russia, many of which are under the controlof the respective regional chief executives, will have the opportunityto report voter turnout by at least 10-15 percent higher thanthe real figure without taking any risk of being suspected…."

In addition, other possibilities exist for "influencing"the election results. Federation Council Deputy Anatoly Fedoseyevtold me that he won the 1993 elections only because the ballotcount at all the voting sites was monitored by his own observers.He said he lost the 1990 elections because two copies of eachballot paper were printed.

One way or another, it is clear that in many regions the wildcard of the governors will have a decisive influence on the electionresults.

Andrei Zhukov is a reporter for the Moscow newspaper Obshchayagazeta.