Regional Elections in Russia: Interesting, Even Without Credible Opposition

The election campaign in Crimea will be relatively uneventful, because Putin’s approval ratings there are sky-high. But it will be interesting to see how many seats the Rodina (Motherland) Party wins.

Who typically ran against incumbents for the top spot in regional governments in the 1990s-2000s? First and foremost, it was former heads of regions, battling back after being dismissed by President Yeltsin. But there aren’t too many examples of this kind of candidates these days: just former governor of the Stavropol Territory Alexander Chernogorov and former governor of the Kursk Region Alexander Rutskoi. They tried to mount comebacks, but both failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot, despite the fact that the local elite in these regions was formed largely in the days when they were in office.

The second source of candidates was heads of large industrial enterprises. But there are no more “Red directors” left today. Such enterprises are now part of vertically integrated holding companies which are no longer run by charismatic leaders, but by hired managers who simply follow the shareholders’ will.

The third source was mayors of major cities. Following the municipal reforms and the “managerization” of cities, there are no more influential mayors willing to challenge governors. Moreover, mayors generally will not run when the governor is a member of the same party (governors make sure this rule is enforced on behalf of the party). State Duma representatives of single-member districts would also run in the past, but such districts no longer exist. And what about Federation Council members who have made it through an election? Direct elections to the Federation Council were ended. There’s no place left to look for credible opposition candidates.

As for the uproar over the “municipal filter” that screens candidates, the only really big case was Oksana Dmitriyeva from Just Russia Party in St. Petersburg. And I believe it was her fault: she started talking in the language of ultimatum right from the get-go, suggesting that the signatures should be collected for her. I believe that she failed precisely because her campaign was adversarial from the start. Few candidates have succumbed to the municipal filter. The latest innovation is for parties to nominate and then withdraw candidates, as was the case with Rahil Sarbayev in Bashkiria.

Clearly, if we decide to keep the municipal filter, it should be adjusted to make elections more democratic. The filter does not affect the balance of political forces too much, and the opposition is still not eager to act in such circumstances. The filter must be adjusted, and we put forward proposals to do just that last year. Another interesting proposal, made by the ISEPR Foundation, which is close to the Kremlin, was to give municipal deputies the right of second signature in case when first candidate dropped out.

Turning to upcoming elections, the race in the Krasnoyarsk Territory is likely to be interesting. It features Patriots of Russia candidate Ivan Serebryakov, who enjoys the support of influential local businessman Anatoly Bykov. There will also be a relatively strong Communist Party candidate Valery Sergiyenko, who in 1988-1992 headed the territorial executive committee. The incumbent governor is not a native of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, and local pride runs high here. The campaign should be quite lively.

In the Murmansk Region, everyone interested in running for governor – that is to say, all opposition candidates – made it on the ballot. The leader of the local chapter of Just Russia, Alexander Makarevich, will be the primary challenger to incumbent Governor Marina Kovtun, but his poll numbers suggest that his prospects are not great.

The Orenburg Region will be an interesting experiment to gauge how competitive non-parliamentary opposition parties really are. Regional branches of parliamentary opposition parties made a mistake by nominating a candidate with a criminal background: the Liberal Democratic Party was forced to withdraw Katasonov’s name, and now the Orenburg Region is the only region without a parliamentary opposition party candidate. It will be interesting to see what the non-parliamentary parties can do. There’s a fairly strong candidate from Civic Platform, and another interesting candidate from the Honestly Party – head of the Russian Association of Rural Towns and Villages Alexander Mitin.

The campaign in Crimea will be relatively uneventful, because Putin’s approval ratings there are sky-high. But it will be interesting to see how many seats the Rodina (Motherland) Party wins.

With regard to Moscow, I believe that the elections won’t be as good as they could have been. The reforms carried out by the Moscow government are counterproductive. First, they resulted in the complete transition to single-member districts. Second, they led to a lower ratio of deputies to voters. In fact, it’s the worst ratio in Russia. Third, the number of full-time, professional deputies declined. We can see the consequences of this policy, in particular, in the irrational approaches of the Moscow Department of Transport. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.