Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 91

The end of April saw the start of the gubernatorial campaign in Samara Oblast. The pre-term election, set for June 2, became necessary when incumbent Governor Konstantin Titov resigned in the wake of his poor showing in Russia’s recent presidential election. Titov was particularly embarrassed by the lukewarm support he received in Samara, where he got only 20 percent of the vote, trailing not only behind Vladimir Putin but also behind the Communist candidate, Gennady Zyuganov.

Cynics predicted that Titov’s resignation would not prevent him from standing for governor again. He had stepped down deliberately, they said, so as to run for re-election before the opposition building up against him in the regional elite turned into a serious political force. And while Titov did nothing to confirm this speculation, subsequent developments bear it out. He said from the start that he would stand again if “the people gave him their trust.” Sure enough, by the middle of April a well-organized campaign was underway, aimed at creating the impression that the local population was clamoring for the former governor to run again.

By the end of April, four contenders had formally declared themselves as candidates: Titov, Albert Makashov (ultranationalist general and former State Duma deputy), Nikolai Sorokin (general director of the Samara Anticrisis Center) and Gennady Zvyagin (director of the Samaratransgaz company) (Russian agencies, April 29). More recently, a fifth has joined the race–Viktor Tarkhov, manager of the Alliance financial-industrial group (Russian agencies, May 4).

Titov clearly understood that his strategy of voluntarily stepping down from and running again for the governor’s post looked strange from a moral point of view. It was therefore important for him to show that he had made his decision to run again as the result of pressure from the voters. The ceremony in which he officially entered the race included 685 representatives from 155 initiative groups supporting his candidacy, representing ten towns and twenty-seven rural areas of Samara Oblast, along with the political and economic elite of the region. Titov assured those present that he remained a supporter of social liberalism and that it was time for the oblast to get down to work (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 4).

Makashov is supported by the Samara branch of the Russian Communist Party, though not unequivocally. The national press has made much of his candidacy, on the basis of both the support he is receiving from the Communists and his notorious anti-Semitic and anti-Western views. Local Communist leaders sheepishly admit that they have held consultations with other candidates and that they intend to hold more. Samara voters are generally unenthusiastic about Communist candidates, and Makashov’s reputation is likely to scare off many left-wing voters. Experience shows, too, that Moscow-based candidates tend to fare poorly when up against local bigwigs because they cannot counter the advantages which office bestows or the myriad informal networks which the governors have at their disposal. For this reason, Samara’s Communists are said also to be considering supporting either Tarkhov or the left-leaning mayor of Samara, Georgi Limanskom (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 4).

For Titov, Tarkhov is by far the most dangerous opponent. Tarkhov chaired the Samara Oblast Soviet until September 1991, when President Yeltsin removed him from office for siding with the organizers of the August 1991 coup. Later, Tarkhov headed the Novokuibyshev Oil Refinery; later still, he worked for the Yukos oil company. He is the focal point around whom the “new opposition” to Titov has been forming. This new opposition is believed to be made up of Samara entrepreneurs who have lost patience with Titov’s leadership. Some are said to be planning to hedge their bets by secretly backing both Titov and Tarkhov (Kommersant, May 4). The main battle will be between these two candidates.