Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 156

Incumbent Governor Boris Govorin was reelected in a runoff ballot in eastern Siberia’s Irkutsk Oblast on August 19. With 47.6 percent of the votes cast, Govorin narrowly defeated Sergei Levchenko, a State Duma deputy and member of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), who scored 45.3 percent (, August 21).

Levchenko put up a strong fight, sharply reducing the gap between the candidates narrowed between the first and second rounds of voting. In the first round on July 29, Govorin won 45.5 percent and Levchenko only 24 (Russian agencies, July 30). Therefore, Govorin managed to win few additional supporters between the two rounds, whereas Levchenko secured the votes of almost all the candidates who were excluded after the first round.

As is now traditional in such cases, Govorin’s opponents have already declared that they do not accept the results of the election. The day following the voting, Aleksandr Salii, a member of Agrarian group in the State Duma, claimed that election figures compiled on the spot by election observers from leftwing parties showed Levchenko with 4,000 votes more than the final, official tally. According to Salii, cheating was involved. This is confirmed, he says, by the fact that an oblast election commission computer serving “Vybory,” the state vote-counting system, broke down on the evening of August 19 (, August 20) Independent observers noted that, prior to the computer breakdown, Levchenko was in the lead, winning in three of the region’s largest cities–Irkutsk, Bratsk and Usol-Sibirsk (Rossiiskie Vesti, August 23). Levchenko himself says he intends to take the issue to court (Kommersant, August 21). In his view, a parallel vote count shows him winning 0.7 percent more votes that Govorin (Russian agencies, August 20). One of the leaders of the KPRF, Aleksandr Kuvaev, noted that, according to the experts, “administrative resources” (that is, the official and unofficial resources available to sitting governors) can sway the outcome of a regional election by anything up to 5 percent (Radio Ekho Moskvy, August 20).

Govorin categorically denies the leftists’ charges, saying that they lost the election because they did not put forward any kind of development program for the oblast. Noting that he had already won two court cases against his opponents, Govorin threatened to sue anyone who slandered him (Kommersant, August 22). Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission (CEC), is clearly on Govorin’s side. In his view, the Communists’ statements are groundless: “CEC representatives visited dozens of voting stations on polling day, followed the tallying of the results by means of the ‘Vybory’ system, and observed no malfunctions or violations whatsoever,” he said (Russian agencies, August 20).

Veshnyakov’s opinion should be viewed as definitive. In the words of the independent newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, “All previous gubernatorial elections in Russia have shown that the arguments of ‘Red’ lawyers are unlikely to be taken into consideration” (Komsomolskaya Pravda, August 21). Even so, as the independent newspaper Izvestia noted, observers not only do not take issue with the view that the results of elections are achieved by the ‘wide and effective’ use of ‘administrative resources,’ but view this state of affairs as entirely natural (Izvestia, August 22).

The national media were not united in their view of the Irkutsk results in the context of other recent regional campaigns. Some observers stated that Govorin’s victory, like those of candidates in other regional elections, was assisted by the pragmatism of the Kremlin’s regional policy. “If the leading candidates don’t wind up in the ranks of the ‘marginals,’ they are given the opportunity to assert their claim to remain in power without interference by the center,” Izvestia wrote. According to this view, the Irkutsk elections show that regional policy has become more predictable and, from the center’s standpoint, more manageable (Izvestia, August 22).

There is another point of view–that Govorin’s margin of victory is proof less of the authorities’ success than of the power of the KPRF and that, in general, the federal authorities have suffered, in the words of the influential weekly Argumenty i Fakty, “one defeat after another” in regional elections this year. Those who hold this view blame the defeats on the president’s representatives in the federal districts for the defeats (Argumenty i Fakty, August 22).

However, the most interesting views on the subject go beyond the question “Who won?” For example, the NTV television channel asserted that the Irkutsk elections confirmed speculation that a “Grey Belt,” analogous to the “Red Belt” of Communist-controlled regions, is being created. The distinguishing characteristic of the authorities in this “Grey Belt” is their aim to establish strict control. According to this observer, the number of such “regimes” is growing, the Grey Belt is widening, and Putin is doing nothing to stop it (NTV, August 25).