“Elections are a matter of paperwork, rather than an expression of the people’s will.” That was the comment made by Vedomosti observer Olga Romanova on the news that the election outcome in the Krasnoyarsk territory had been annulled.
There has been a huge scandal over the decision of the Krasnoyarsk election commission, which declared the results of the September 22 gubernatorial election invalid and set the new election date for March 2, 2003.
On the one hand, Vremya Novostei noted, “undoubtedly there were substantial violations in the course of the election”. Two of Russia’s largest corporations – Norilsk Nickel and Russian Aluminum – were locked in a power-struggle in Krasnoyarsk. Gubernatorial candidates did not even try to conceal who was funding their election campaigns, nor that their campaign spending considerably exceeded the norms stipulated by the regional election law.
It was an open secret that the so-called administrative resource was also used: Alexander Khloponin obviously used his position of Taimyr Governor, and Alexander Uss, who is according to Vremya Novostei “the only legitimate leader in the region” was controlling the situation in Krasnoyarsk. In these terms, both rivals were equal.
However, until now, the paper stresses, “there has been an unwritten rule on the Russian political arena: the results of elections cannot be sacrificed,” no matter who wins. Even if regional election stations found some violations, they considered them to be “insignificant”.
Now, the tradition has been broken. Politicians were unanimous in their reaction at the decision of the regional election commission. Deputy Chairman of the Unity faction Vladislav Reznik said “it is mockery at the people’s will and common sense.” Leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nemtsov says: “It is possible to speak of fomenting political instability in Russia’s largest industrial region, which is damaging not only to the Krasnoyarsk territory, but to the whole country.” Duma Deputy Speaker Lubov Sliska says: “The actions of the Krasnoyarsk election commission can be considered as a challenge to the Russian election system.”
Head of the Central Election Commission Alexander Veshnyakov said in his interview with Izvestia that the decision to cancel the results of the election was made under the pressure of certain groupings which were dissatisfied with the results of the election,
Veshnyakov refused to give any details, however, according to the paper, “over the past week two top executives of Russian Aluminum, who are formally no longer employees of the company – senator and a regional administration official – have been privately talking to the members of the election commission.” The talks resulted in the sensational decision, made at the very last moment.
According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Alexander Khloponin, who has already shared his gubernatorial intentions with the press, forgot diplomacy when commenting on the scandal: “They are crazy people. They cannot understand the consequences of their decision: unaccepted budget, absence of regional government for another six months, and additional 120 million rubles for another election.”
The CEO of Norilsk Nickel also believes the decision is a “political order”.
According to Izvestia expert, analyst of the Moscow Carnegie Center Andrei Ryabov, the Krasnoayrsk election scandal “is the first open collision of leading business-groups”. The Kremlin has a favorable position of a supreme arbiter now and its position will be determinative. The president has a chance to increase his authority among regional and business elite groups. According to Ryabov, it is even more important than high popularity among ordinary voters.
Another observer and leading specialist of the Institute for Complex Social Research Leonty Byzov does not doubt that Khloponin will eventually win the election, “The Kremlin will not agree to reconsider the results, although it will note certain violations. It is too dangerous to hold new elections now.”
In fact, it is very difficult to predict the reaction of Krasnoyarsk’s ordinary voters to the prospect of a continuation of the election soap opera, given that the previous election cost a tremendous amount of money, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, “According to approximate calculations, the sum in question is several tens of millions of dollars.”
Nezavisimaya Gazeta says over the summer Krasnoyarsk residents were complaining of regional press and television channels, “There was nothing but ordered articles and reports.” However, the paper says, the same concerns the federal press and media concerning the Krasnoyarsk election.
However, beside the serious candidates, there was a number of “various clowns” who decided to participate in the election and thus remind of themselves. In particular, they were: Artem Tarasov, who promised the region tremendous investments and eventually withdrew from the race and called to vote for Alexander Uss; Sergey Glaziev, who unexpectedly was the third in the election, German Sterligov, Moscow coffin maker, and former Duam deputy Zhurko, who hung a balloon with his own portrait on the central square. By the way, Tarasov and Glaziev exchanged courtesies: the former called the latter an “economic impotent”, while the latter retorted with “political bum”.
Overall, the election carnival greatly entertained the Krasnoyarsk population; however, the majority of observers think the victory of the Norilsk Nickel leader was not an accident, although it seemed to be a paradox.
Novaya Gazeta reflected it is strange that a “Muscovite” has won the election, although the most important slogan of the election race was local patriotism, as Krasnoyarsk people had completely disappointed with Alexander Lebed. Moreover, a tyccon has won the election in the region with a great deal of economic and social issues; amazingly, the majority of the Communist electorate voted for him.
Trying to solve this puzzle, the paper stresses that “the candidate who positioned himself as a manager easily and quickly caught up with the candidate who positioned himself as a politician.”
From the standpoint of the paper, this is a clear demonstration of public opinion on the present politicians. In particular, all Russian politicians have a reputation of “great plotters and masters of eloquence” rather than business people. Consequently, Russian voters are setting their hopes for positive changes on newcomers rather than on old-timers of the Russian political arena. Hence, it is a serious warning for political old-timers: on the one hand, there is a possibility of appearance of a new “outwardly apolitical” generation of leaders; on the other hand, voters have lost their ideological motivation in the election. The paper notes, “this will undoubtedly add some intrigue to the forthcoming federal election.”
In turn, the Konservator paper says Communist Glaziev was the only trump card of Khloponin’s. The majority of observers also agree that Khloponin had indeed copied Glaziev’s social partnership program, which brought him 6% of votes and allowed him to win the election. Besides, Konservator notes, first days after the election, Khloponin also determined the general direction of his activities, “Financial-industrial groups should pay taxes to the regional budget. The regional assembly should pass a number of laws concerning tolling transactions, energy sector, and social sector.” The paper explains, “All these statements are directed against aluminum holding of Roman Abramovich and Oleg Deripaska, who have withdrawn their head office from the region and hence minimized the payments to the regional budget.”
However, according to the Vedomosti paper, Khloponin’s statements are “a protest against the redistribution of tax burden between regional corporations.”
According to Vedomosti, next year an agreement signed by Khloponin and Lebed is to come into effect. The agreement stipulates that Norilsk Nickel should transfer maintenance of the Norilsk social sector to the regional budget, thus completely ceasing its funding. Alexander Uss – supported by Russian Aluminum CEO Oleg Deripaska promised to break this agreement if he wins. According to the paper, the issue “costs” 5 billion rubles a year.
However, in order to shift the responsibility for the Norilsk social sector to the regional budget, Khloponin will have to carry out a tax revolution in the region: at present, Norilsk Nickel contributes 60% of the regional budget revenues, while Russian Aluminum brings in only 7%. This is the reason for the federal anti-tolling campaign launched by the Norilsk Nickel leader.
Vedomosti says that if tolling is cancelled for Russian Aluminum, the regional budget will receive nothing: customs duties and VAT will go to the federal budget. However, the paper says, Khloponin needs a starting position for negotiating with Deripaska about increasing tax payments to the regional budget. The calculation is simple: “Say Russian Aluminum sells aluminum to the value of $2.5 billion a year. If tolling duties are canceled, the five percent duty will make up $125 million a year, or 3.8 billion rubles. Plus, there are constant problems with obtaining VAT refunds.” So the paper stresses, this negotiation process was the main aim of Khloponin’s candidacy in the election.
Besides, both Khloponin and Deripaska have their supporters in the Kremlin. Rossiyskie Vesti informs that deputy leader of the presidential administration Vladislav Surkov supports the former: he sent political consultants to help Khloponin with the election, and they made active use of the $25 million of Khloponin’s campaign budget. Besides, the paper says, Surkov’s support is the reason for Duma deputies’ sympathy to Khloponin, regardless of their political views: Surkov is in charge of the Russian parliament in the presidential administration.
As for Oleg Deripaska and his business partner Roman Abramovich, they are supported by head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin. Hence, it is a “Family” versus “Putin’s team” story, yet again.
According to Rossiyskie Vesti, all available means were used; in particular, Voloshin even ordered the Defense Ministry “to vote for Uss”. Apparently, his loss was very painful for his “cheerleaders”.
The Russian press is already calling Khloponin “a new generation politician”. Analysts have announced that “in the near future we will see a triumphal parade of people of his type.”
Director of the Political Situation Center Valery Fedorov says of Khloponin: “He is not a tycoon like Abramovich; not a good economist or old party boss like Luzhkov or Uss; not a KGB or security officer like Maslov – he is a manager, a relatively young man, who has been a success within the new social-economic and political system.”
It is not a surprise that the press has already discussed further political prospects of Alexander Khloponin, including the possibility of his participation in the presidential election. Judging by everything, the political potential of Khloponin is estimated as fairly high.
For instance, head of the Effective Policy Foundation Gleb Pavlovsky says Khloponin is a “new type of politician and he has good prospects.”
Famous political scientist Vyacheslav Nikonov says, “He is a strong and dynamic politician. However, Vladimir Putin will independently appoint his successor in 2008, and his decision will hardly likely depend on Khloponin’s success.”
Valery Fedorov thinks Khloponin has more than enough time to be a success as a governor, “2008 is too early for him, while 2012 is quite realistic. To become more than a governor, Khloponin will have to get rid of his image of Norilsk Nickel appointee and not to get bogged down in regional problems.”
Vladimir Ryzhkov is sympathizing with Khloponin, “They played a dirty trick on him. As soon as a person is called a presidential contender, he is finished as a politician. I would advise Khloponin to deny these suppositions as soon as possible. He should not think of his further career now.”
Actually, Khloponin has already appeal to the regional court concerning the regional election commission, despite the ominous warning of his rival Uss. However, Kommersant witnesses that Uss announced publicly that the decision of the regional election commission was entirely unexpected for him, although he agrees with it, “We should respect the decision of the election commission: we have fought for democracy. Either the authorities observe the law, or governors should be appointed.” By the way, Uss was not the only one, who thought of appointed governors.
The Novye Izvestia paper says, the Russian president needs a tough executive power hierarchy. However, until now there have not been judicial basis for rejecting the burdensome and inefficient democratic procedures. In these terms, the Krasnoyarsk scandal is a real gift for supporters of radical decisions.
Moreover, according to the paper, the Kremlin has got a possibility to kill two birds. On the one hand, “business representatives who have accumulated their primary capital by means of doubtful auctions and 1998 default” are not allowed in the power. On the other hand, there is a convincing possibility to explain to the society that rejection of elections will allow the state budget to save substantial sums of money and will make it easier for the president to rule his governor-generals.
According to Komsomolskaya Pravda, the Russian society does not object much to the rejection of elections.
At the same time, democrats are indignant. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said in his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda that the scandal around election is “favorable for those who want to liquidate them and to settle the police system in the country: for instance, to appoint directly their criminal associates to top positions.”
Moscow Administration Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Resin also objected to the idea, “Despite all scandals, governors and mayors should be elected not appointed. Undoubtedly, as soon as we reject the democratic procedure, we will be unable to manage the regions. Apparently, some are trying to achieve this.”
At the same time, the idea of appointed governors has many supporters. Tver Governor Vladimir Platov says, “If the president appoints regional leaders, it will make it possible to optimally rule the regions and decrease the number of officials, which will allow to decrease considerably all budget spending at all levels.”
Governor of the Evenk autonomous district Boris Zolotarev says, “I think, soon governors and mayors will be appointed. I think it is correct.” Former Kursk Governor Alexander Rutskoi says, “The present situation with elections is rather natural: properties and influence areas are being redistributed in Russia. A tough power hierarchy should be established in this case. It is necessary to declare a three to five years moratorium on election in all regions. Once we put the country in order, we will be able to speak about elections.” Traditionally, there is still no order in the Russian land.
By the way, first deputy leader of the Union of Right Forces Boris Nadezhdin said in his interview with Gazeta that the Kremlin is also tired and annoyed with the continued confusion with the regional elections. Nadezhdin says, “I tell them that people can decide everything. And they say our people will make such decisions that we will lose the country.”
At the same time, Kommersant explains that the Kremlin administration has nothing to do with the Krasnoyarsk scandal. The paper says, “It is extremely unfavorable for Alexander Voloshin to be associated with Roman Abramovich’s group. Personal contacts and secret support is one thing, while a public scandal and canceled election is a different thing.” It is even stranger to suppose that the president sanctioned cancellation of the results: the economic situation in the region is critical and now it will not have leadership for six years more.
Overall, the regional election commission will be charged with the Krasnoyarsk scandal. It is not an accident that head of the commission Georgy Kostrykin has already announced that he has been hospitalized because of a heart attack – now he is holding intense discussions with his subordinates.
It is easy to understand Kostrykin: he has only one commission, half of which was appointed by Lebed, and another half – by Uss. Now, they have to make the decision in support of Khloponin – and it is very difficult.
In general, as Gleb Pavlovsky said in his interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda recently, “the growth of scandals around elections and involvement of ordinary voters into these scandals demonstrate the growth of democratic institutions in the society.” In short, “Abundance of dirt is the price of democracy.” Well, it is an open secret: it is clean not where people don’t litter, but where they clean it up.