Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 130

Demonstrating yet again the overwhelming advantages which incumbency confers on Russia’s regional leaders, Konstantin Titov was re-elected governor of Samara Oblast on July 2 (RTR, July 2). Titov stepped down in April, six months before his term was officially due to end, because he had failed to win the support of a majority of the oblast’s voters when he ran as a presidential candidate in March. At that time, he came third in Samara, winning fewer votes than either Vladimir Putin or the Communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov.

Titov’s poor showing in the presidential race did not prevent him from standing for re-election to a second term as governor or from defeating four other candidates to win outright in the first round with 53 percent of the votes. Second place went to Viktor Tarkhov with just under 30 percent; Tarkhov formerly chaired the old Soviet executive committee in the oblast. In third place, with 9 percent, was Gennady Zvyagin, general director of the Samaratransgaz gas transportation company. Votes “against all” amounted to 4.5 percent (NTV, July 3).

None of this was a surprise. Titov emerged early in the campaign as the front-runner and opinion polls consistently showed him well ahead of his opponents. Contrary to predictions, Tarkhov failed to evolve into a figure around whom the oblast’s opposition could rally. No large political or economic group gave him its wholehearted support. Even some segments of the Communist Party ended up supporting Titov, contrary to the forecasts of the local pundits.

Titov’s victory provides yet another example of how helpless the Kremlin can be when it confronts an established regional leader. According to some local sources, it was Titov’s fear that the Kremlin would wreak revenge for his daring to run for president against Putin which prompted him to resign in April. His position in the region had weakened during his campaign for president. Unity, the new political movement which emerged from nowhere to back Putin, worked actively against Titov’s presidential bid. After Titov made an ill-judged and ultimately unsuccessful effort to grab control of the new movement, he had every reason to fear that Unity would prove the rallying point for opposition to his leadership.

Other observers suspect, however, that Titov stepped down early in a move deliberately calculated to catch his opponents–the Kremlin included–off guard. The decision to run in a pre-term gubernatorial election certainly proved a clever step. First, it allowed Titov to secure re-election before the much bruited changes in the balance of power between the Kremlin and the regions became a reality. Second, it pre-empted the formation of a broad anti-Titov front. As a result, the opposition failed to unite behind a single candidate, and Titov was able to pick off his weaker opponents one by one.

Indeed, instead of a “broad opposition front,” what emerged was a pro-Titov front. As noted above, this force even numbered some local communists, including those in control of the resources of the oblast branch of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The regional branches of the Union of Right-Wing Forces and Yabloko also supported the former governor (though the latter did so only with reservations), as did important local economic interests (Russian agencies, June 28). A few leaders of the local branch of Unity even came out for him, though the party as a whole actively opposed his campaign.

The case of Unity exemplifies the problems the Kremlin faces when it tries to confront regional governors and their administrative resources. It was Unity–which aspires to the role of a ruling party–which embodied the interests of the Kremlin in Samara during the recent election, and it is for this reason that Titov’s victory is an important defeat for the Kremlin.

As in previous cases, such as the election for St. Petersburg governor earlier this year, the Kremlin team proved unable to put a foot right. It not only did all it could to rob itself of any chance of victory, but it also ensured that its defeat would be noisy and unequivocal. The split within the ranks of the Samara branch of Unity ought to have had a positive side, giving the Kremlin room for maneuver and obscuring the opposition of Unity’s national leadership to Titov. However, Unity’s “anti-Titov” section ignored this opportunity, leaving no stone unturned in publicizing its opposition. At a June 27 press conference in Samara, Frants Klintsevich, first deputy chairman of Unity’s central executive committee and deputy head of the party’s faction in the State Duma, warned that Titov’s return to power would be “very harmful.” “I shall never forgive Titov for running against Putin,” Klintsevich declared. As for the statements in support of Titov from the leader of Unity’s branch in Samara, Avtovaz board chairman Vladimir Kaidannikov, Klintsevich threatened: “It seems to me that he won’t be leader much longer” (Russian agencies, June 28).

For a long time, too, Unity could not decide whether to support Viktor Tarkhov or Gennady Zvyagin in the Samara contest. Though it finally decided on Zvyagin, the hesitation proved fatal. The appearance of two “opposition” candidates on the ballot papers doomed both of them to defeat in the first round (Russian agencies, June 28).

The results of the election strengthened Titov’s position considerably. It will be a long time before the Kremlin gets another opportunity to remove him without resorting to the courts and scandals: On June 28, the Samara Duma amended the oblast charter to increase the governor’s term from four to five years (Russian agencies, June 29). Putin will have to take Titov seriously, given that the newly elected governor’s term will not expire until a year after the president’s.

It is possible, of course, that an attempt will be made to challenge the results of the Samara election, given the many allegations of violations and coercion during the course of early voting (Russian agencies, June 26). About 5 percent of the oblast’s voters took part in early voting (NTV, July 2). Klintsevich referred to alleged violations at his press conference. The incidents he cited, however, sounded trivial and came only in response to questions from journalists, suggesting that Unity’s leadership is not hopeful that it can successfully challenge the July 2 vote.