Staunton, September 9 – On a day when the ruling United Russia Party won almost everywhere else, opposition figures Yevgeny Roizman and Galina Shirshina defeated the party of power candidates in mayoralty elections in Yekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk, but even before the votes were certified, the losers have begun talking about fraud and overturning the results.
Yekaterinburg’s Royzman, who heads the City without Drugs organization, had attracted some attention in the Moscow media, but Petrozavodsk’s Shirshina, an independent publisher who was supported by other opposition parties, did not. And the past behavior of United Russia in Karelia suggests that her victory, though larger, is almost certain to be challenged.
Royzman defeated Yakov Silin, the United Russia candidate, 30.11 percent to 26.48 percent. But the “Moscow Times” reports today that Ilya Zakharov, head of the local elections commission, said that officials had found “serious violations” and that the results should be considered “only preliminary” (themoscowtimes.com/news/article/opposition-candidate-roizman-wins-in-yekaterinburg-by-4/485742.html).
In Petrozavodsk, Shirshina received 41.9 percent of the vote, 13 percent than the incumbent United Russia mayor Nikolay Levin, with another 11 candidates trailing far behind. Shirshina ran as an independent, but she was backed by Yabloko after its candidate Emiliya Slabunova was removed from the ballot (newsru.com/russia/09sep2013/petrozavodsk.html).
But just as in Yekaterinburg, election officials suggested that the results might be challenged, although Aleksey Bakhilin, chairman of that body says “there are no bases” for doing so.
According to her supporters, Shirshina won becauseshewas “able to become the single, consolidated candidate for all who are dissatisfied with the situation in Petrozavodsk and who want change.” But they say that “it would be naïve to support that the party of power will surrender without a fight” (gubdaily.ru/blog/news/galina-shirshina-pobedila-na-vyborax-mera-petrozavodska-vlast-dumaet-kak-otmenit-rezultaty-golosovaniya/).
The Kremlin-controlled Rossiya 24 television suggested in its coverage of Shirshina’s election that she was simply a stalking horse “technical candidate” for Yabloko. And Karelian Governor Aleksandr Khudilanen declared that “it is early to speak about specific results and the names of the winners” (gov.karelia.ru/gov/News/2013/09/0908_07.html).
In its report on the Petrozavodsk vote,”Rossiiskaya gazeta” said Shirshina’s victory was very much “unexpected,” but it described it as a “protest” vote that reflected local anger at the incumbent who political scientist Mikhail Sedykh suggested had made “too many errors on the eve of the voting” (rg.ru/2013/09/09/reg-szfo/shirshina.html).
The Moscow paper commented that “the head of Karelia and the rulingparty had actively supported Nikolay Levin. But even these administrative resources couldn’t do anything. True, already now certain experts” are talking about the risks of turning over the city to someone “completely unprepared” for the challenges of office.
In advance of these elections, many commentators talked about the possibility, indeed the near certainty, that some opposition figures would charge fraud and seek to overturn the results. But few talked about the likelihood that the party of power might use the same strategy. The situations in Yekaterinburg and Petrozavodsk thus deserve to be followed closely.