A WORKING REHEARSAL

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Reports from regional elections on October 8

October 8 was Russia’s second common voting day for this year, affecting most of the regions. There were all kinds of elections: for local governments, city mayors, regional parliaments. The Central Electoral Commission’s battle against dirty campaign tactics has not been successful.


Sunday, October 8, was Russia’s second common voting day for this year (the first was in March), affecting most of the regions. There were all kinds of elections: for local governments, city mayors, regional parliaments. Although not even the preliminary results were known as we went to print, the first outcome is obvious already: the Central Electoral Commission’s years-long battle against dirty campaign tactics has not been successful.

On the eve of the common voting day, CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov described October 8 as a “working rehearsal” for the Duma election and presidential election of 2007-08. Judging by initial reports from the regions, regional authorities, political parties, and ordinary voters were rehearsing very thoroughly.

“This has been the dirtiest election in the past decade,” says Yevgeny Pokrovsky, chairman of the Astrakhan region’s election commission. “We’ve received reports of campaign posters being destroyed or painted over, banners being cut up or ripped away. There was even a case where one party’s campaigners were handing out leaflets and another party’s supporters were snatching them away. It almost became a brawl, and police had to intervene.”

Vladimir Levkin, deputy chairman of the Karelian election commission, says this was the first time Karelia has experienced such widespread use of “counter-campaigning” methods: rather than promoting themselves, candidates focused on mud-slinging – accusing each other of corruption, misappropriation, consumer fraud, being “drunk and degenerate,” and every other mortal sin. Most of these leaflets and written-to-order articles were published quite legally, marked with data showing which candidate’s campaign funds had paid for these campaign materials.

The results of this busy political activity have been predictable. In Karelia, for example, where the regional government’s credibility has dropped to almost zero following the Kondopoga riots, voter turnout was only 17% by the middle of voting day – half of what it was four years ago.

The Primorye territory’s election was notable for the extent of campaigning. Housing and communal services authorities are now demanding that candidates should pay for cleaning up leaflets and other campaign garbage, and threatening to sue. The clean-up is estimated to cost at least 800,000 rubles in one district of Vladivostok alone. Primorye had only a couple of negative campaigning incidents, but the regional election commission issued warnings to the Russian Party of Pensioners, United Russia, and the Freedom and People’s Power party for using minors to distribute campaign leaflets, and the Russian Party of Life got a warning for using people’s images in its campaign without their consent.

All the same, the chief prediction made by pessimists – that in the absence of the “against all candidates” option, voter turnout would be too low for valid elections – was not borne out. Towards evening, all attention focused on the main point of suspense: the rivalry between the Kremlin’s “two legs,” United Russia and the Russian Party of Life. According to the Circon polling agency’s prediction, voter turnout of 40-45% should have ensured wins for United Russia in all nine regions where regional legislatures were being elected. The Russian Party of Life had a chance of winning representation in seven regions; in three of those (Sverdlovsk, Lipetsk, Tuva) it was aspiring to third place, or even second place.

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