Holiday of Obedience or Imitation of Regional Elections in Russia

Sep 14 2015

So, we’ve decided to tell you a very typical story – when there is just an imitation of elections with no real alternative and when it’s quite safe and predictable for the ruling party. This is how it happens (on the example of Leningradskaya Oblast):

The elections in Leningradskaya Oblast are very difficult to call elections. Alexander Drozdenko, Acting Governor, was supported by the Kremlin and, in fact, chose his competitors by himself. For example, he chose Alexander Perminov, a 36-year-old deputy of the Legislative Assembly of Leningradskaya Oblast from ‘A Just Russia’ party, after having some tea with Sergey Mironov, the leader of the party. A little-known candidate from ‘Civic Initiative’ – Alexander Gabitov (a former son-in-law of Gennady Seleznev, ex-Speaker of the State Duma) was reportedly promised the position of the Vice-Governor of the region for his participating in the elections. And Gabitov was touting Drozdenko in his social media the entire summer, which looked quite stupid: “At the entrance to the government building of Leningradskaya Oblast I met A.Y. Drozdenko! Alexander Yurievich – democratically, without security. That’s what it means to conduct business in the region in a balanced and harmonious manner! You can honestly look into the eyes of the citizens and not to be afraid to walk down the street”!

A communist Nikolai Kuzmin, a State Duma deputy, also participated in the elections. When journalists requested him to enumerate the shortcomings of Drozdenko, he effaced himself much. As it turned out, he couldn’t imagine he was supposed to criticize his opponent.

To Andrey Lebedev, the leader of the LDPR faction in the Legislative Assembly, was promised the second place in the elections – so that his self-esteem doesn’t plummet too much. However, the results show that promise of the head of the region hasn’t been kept.

Independent candidates were not allowed to campaign – they were blocked through the so-called ‘municipal filter’ (candidates to the post of the head of the region should collect signatures of municipal deputies, and taking into account that the United Russia has an absolute majority, the chances of unapproved candidates to get to the election ballots equal zero).

A regional oligarch, deputy of the Legislative Assembly of the region from United Russia, Vladimir Petrov, wanted to participate in the elections. He was ready to spend significant funds for his campaign, but Drozdenko was afraid of a strong competitor and reportedly requested the President’s Administration not to let Petrov in the elections.

“God looks after me. I have nobody to fear”

Drozdenko’s elections – as they are dubbed in the region – are the exact repeat of Poltavchenko’s elections of last year when Acting Governor of St. Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko was provided with dummy candidates that did not pose any threat to him. Konstantin Sukhenko, a deputy of the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly from the LDPR, learned he was Poltavchenko’s competitor by accident. He received a phone call and was informed he wanted to become the Governor of Russia’s North Capital. At least he told his friends so. Later, Sukhenko became the head of the Committee on Culture of St. Petersburg i.e. was promoted in exchange for his participation in the elections. Nobody knew Andrey Petrov before those elections – a candidate from the Rodina party, who became Deputy Head of the Central District of St. Petersburg and who unofficially, organized the March summit of European neo-Nazis to the city. City political scientists had difficulty remembering the name of candidate Takhir Bikbaev. Vadim Tulpanov, the Senator, Ex-Speaker of the Legislative Assembly even jokingly called him Timur Bekmambetov (it’s a famous Russian movie director). Poltavchenko didn’t let his biggest opponent in the election – Oksana Dmitrieva from A Just Russia party, which is very popular in the city. When I asked Poltavchenko if he feared her, he responded: “God looks after me. I have nobody to fear.”

Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough

In both cases, the authorities were worried only about one thing – the turnout. Even if the main candidates gain a big percentage and the turnout is only 20%, it may look not serious enough. There is a question of legitimacy in this case. That’s why in both Leningradskaya Oblast this year and in St. Petersburg last year the early voting of so-called ‘budget workers’ were organized. They were not forced to vote for Drozdenko since the main threat for him was only the turnout.

Since there were no real competitors, there were no independent observers as well. Russian pop music was heard in empty poll stations. Pies, traditional for Russian elections, quickly ended. Policemen played games on their cell phones in a relaxed manner. Rare voters would explain they voted for Drozdenko since they “don’t know any other candidate. They haven’t seen anybody on billboards, newspapers haven’t written anything about them.” What is the difference, in the end, with what result Drozdenko is going to win?

Regional journalists, mostly funded by Drozdenko and therefore, can’t write negatively about him, unofficially called the elections as a ‘Holiday of Obedience’ and were happy that those dull, non-alternative and predictable elections are finally over.

According to the preliminary data, voiced by the head of the Leningradskaya Oblast Election Commission Vladimir Zhuravlev, Alexander Drozdenko got 80,6% votes, Nikolay Kuzmin – 8,39%, Alexander Perminov – 3,86%, Andrei Lebedev – 3,45%, Alexander Gabitov – 1,9%.

by Alexandra Garmazhapova

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