Primorye voters went to the polls on May 27 to elect a new krai governor. A local businessman emerged from nowhere to take first place. Coming in second was the former mayor of the region’s capital city of Vladivostok. The result, however, was inconclusive. Neither candidate won an outright majority. The election will now have to go to a second round, which has been set for June 17 (Radio Ekho Moskvy, RTR, May 28).
The election was certain to be controversial. Under the governorship of Yevgeny Nazdratenko, the far eastern region had become a byword for corruption and bad management, plagued in particular by power cuts that found patients dying on the operating table when the lights went out. At the beginning of this year, President Vladimir Putin finally persuaded Nazdratenko to step down before the official expiry of his term. The Kremlin had been trying for years to force him from power. In the end, he agreed to leave in return for being appointed to a desirable post at the State Fisheries Committee. Because the Putin team was so deeply involved in the ouster, observers dubbed this election “the most dangerous to the Kremlin’s prestige” (Vedomosti, May 25).
The election was hotly contested. A mock poll organized a week before election day by activists from Yabloko and the Union of Right-Wing Forces identified four favorites from the thirteen officially registered candidates. First of the four was Gennady Apanasenko, deputy presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district, seen as the candidate of Konstantin Pulikovsky, presidential envoy to the Far Eastern federal district. He was followed by First Deputy Governor Valentin Dubinin, seen as “Nazdratenko’s candidate” and Aleksandr Kirilichev, general director of the Primorye Sea Port; Kirilichev relied for support on the port, which enjoys huge influence in the krai and disposes of substantial administrative resources. Fourth was Viktor Cherepkov, former mayor of Vladivostok, a maverick liberal who had crossed swords with Nazdratenko on countless occasions over recent years, and who retained the sympathy of many voters because, in his day, Vladivostok was free of the power cuts that later became routine (Polit.ru, May 21; Kommersant, May 22; Radio Mayak, May 28). Kremlin sources, referring to their own data, excluded Cherepkov from the list, replacing him with Sergei Darkin, general director of “Roliz,” a commercial fishing company based in Vladivostok (Polit.ru, May 22). Darkin’s campaigners were instantly recognizable because each was kitted out in a bright yellow tee-shirt (Radio Mayak, May 28).
Another serious contender–Admiral Igor Kasatonov, deputy commander of the Russian Navy–dropped out of the race at the last moment, pleading insufficient financial resources with which to campaign (Yezhednevnye Novosti [Vladivostok], May 22). This decision was the major news event of the last week of campaigning, given that most observers considered Kasatonov the Kremlin’s candidate and interpreted his withdrawal as a sign of the collapse of the Putin team’s strategy. On the eve of the vote, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission, declared that Putin supported none of the candidates (see the Monitor, May 23). The statement was not entirely accurate. The president’s team has never openly backed any candidate for governor, even those who have quite clearly enjoyed tacit Kremlin support. The race in Primorsky Krai was no exception. Kasatonov’s withdrawal meant merely that there had been a regrouping of forces. It appears that the president’s team was divided: Apanasenko had the backing not only of Pulikovsky but also of Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Kremlin administration (NTV, May 22). Announcing his withdrawal, Kasatonov called on his supporters to vote for Apanasenko (Lenta.ru, May 22). It can therefore be assumed that Kasatonov was asked to withdraw on the eve of the vote by his Kremlin backers, who decided that the Pulikovsky-Surkov candidate stood a better chance of victory.
The vote, as we have said, was not conclusive. Darkin came in first with 24 percent, followed by Cherepkov with 20 percent. Apanasenko was in third place with 14 percent (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 28). Darkin and Cherepkov are therefore expected to face one another in the June 17 run-off. As long, that is, as Darkin does not succumb to the court appeal lodged against him by two members of the electorate, who claimed that Darkin campaigners tried to buy their votes in return for one of the trademark yellow tee-shirts. If, as the complainants are demanding, Darkin is struck from the list, Kremlin-favorite Apanasenko may, after all, be in with a chance (Radio Mayak, May 28).
NEVER A DULL MOMENT.