Thursday, August 29, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Baikal Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on China – Just One of the Elections Outside Moscow Worth Watching

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Only two of the four candidates running for the position of governor of the Trans-Baikal kray have used an online survey to call for the development of closer cooperation with China, just one of the reasons that a series of contested elections outside of Moscow merit attention.

            Four candidates are running for the Trans-Baikal post: Ruslan Balagur of Citizen Force, Konstantin Ilkovsky of Just Russia, Vasilina Kuliyeva of LDPR, and Nikolay Merzlikin of the KPRF. In advance of the September 8 vote, two of them, Ilkovsky and Kuliyeva, agreed to take part in an online discussion (

            The other two, Balagur and Merzlikin, did not, Balagur because, in the words of, he does not appear to be running an active campaign, and Merzlikin, a real competitor, whose KPRF however seldom takes part in online actions because its candidates “consciously do not focus on the Internet-active population.”
            But that distinction is far from the most interesting. The two candidates who did take part in this online press conference advanced different proposals for the development of relations between the kray and China, an unusual but not unprecedented foreign policy discussion in a regional election.
            Ilkovsky, who is currently the acting governor, argued that “the Trans-Baikal must become the logistical gates to Europe for Chinese producers,” with new storage facilities, a revamped airport in Chita, and radically expanded inter-modal transport networks built with an eye to what China needs. 
            But Kuliyeva suggested that the region had failed in this regard because the Chinese market was “the stuff of dreams of regional officials” who were not being hard-headed about it and these officials have reached agreements “not with the neighboring Chinese region (the Autonomous District of Inner Mongolia) but only with the authorities of a small border city.”
The LDPR candidate suggested that it is time to discuss again the possibility of creating a free economic zone in the Trans-Baikal and to develop conditions for expanded tourism—“the Chinese tourist so far is a surprising rarity and something that is frightening for local residents.” That has to change.

                In a comment on yesterday, Lola Tagayeva said that “the elections in Moscow” have so dominated Russia’s media “space” that far too little attention is being given to the campaigns outside the capital, suggesting that a significant number of these races deserve to be watched (

                Three mayoral races – in Voronezh, Yekaterinburg, and Vologda – are especially interesting because they are sufficiently competitive that it is not yet clear who will win the most votes or, more interestingly, who will be declared the winner, Tagayeva says.

                In Voronezh after a series of missteps by its original candidate, United Russia nominated the “even less popular vice governor,” Aleksandr Gusev, to run it his lace. As a result of this turn of events, the writer says, an opposition candidate, Galina Kudryavtseva of the Green Alliance, has a slight lead in the polls.

            Officials are “certain” that she will nonetheless lose, “a least officially,” because of the widespread use of administrative measures and the likelihood of massive falsifications. The cty is already known as “one of the dirtiest” in this regard, experts say, with officials seeking to frighten the elderly about losing their pensions if there is any change and opening polling places only where residents are likely to vote for the party of power.

            Meanwhile in Yekaterinburg, officials allowed Yevgeny Royzman to run in the hopes of drawing votes away from the SR Aleksandr Burkov and the KPRF candidate Andrey Alshevsky  thereby allowing Unnited Russia’s Yakov Silin to win. But Royzman has campaigned actively and now, along with Burkov, is polling ahead of Silin. No one can now say who will win.

            The mayoral race in Vologda is also competitive, according to Aleksandr Kynyev, head of regional programs at the Foundation for the Development of Information Policy.  He suggests that Aleksandr Lukichev, the former speaker of the city council and a candidate of the Civic Platform, has a good chance to win.

            There are also serious fights for control of city and regional councils, with competitive situations currently to be found in seven of the 16 regional parliaments, including Arkhangelsk, Smolensk, Yaroslavl, and Irkutsk oblasts, Trans-Baikal kray, and the republics of Kalmykia and Buryatia. These are all places in which United Russia has done poorly in the past.

            There is another feature of these elections as well. While the party of power usually gets most of the seats at the regional and urban levels not by party list but in single member constituencies, those who win in the latter “do not always” follow the party line once they are elected, thus reducing the real share of United Russia influence.

            According to Konstantin Kalachev, head of the Political Experts Group, these elections show that “there is a power vacuum but no one is filling it.”  On the one hand, United Russia is attracting ever fewer voters, but on the other, the other parties, unless they are led by a charismatic figure, often “disorient and demotivate” those unhappy with the current situation.

                That is especially true at the regional level, he continues, because “typically the counter-elite” focuses on Moscow rather than the regions, even though surveys suggest it could do well in many parts of the country if it would become more active there.

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