On September 14, 2014 the Gubernatorial and Municipal Elections will be held in St. Petersburg. The municipal campaign was planned in advance, but the residents of St. Petersburg officially got to know about the Early Election of the Head of St. Petersburg only three months before the Elections itself. As a result of a meeting with Vladimir Putin in the evening of June 4, the current governor of St. Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko resigned and expressed his intention to be elected for a new term 1.
The initial rumors about the possible resignation could be heard since late 2013. At the federal level everybody started to talk about it when an article was published in the newspaper ‘Vedomosti’. The sources related with the President’s administration 2 claimed that the Kremlin considers the Early Election option due to the intensive protest mood in the city. The end of his term of office as a governor had to be in 2016, the same year as the Parliamentary Election and the Election to Regional Legislative bodies. Three simultaneously held large-scale campaigns in one of the key regions of the country would have caused high risks and great difficulties for the government.
As interlocutors said to ‘Vedomosti’, the Kremlin had not yet decided on a candidate. According to them, local businesses men are not satisfied with the current governor. ‘St. Petersburg authorities were not able to facilitate the environment where investors and developers could comfortably work, we are tired of the constant shifts of personnel, there are no clear rules of the game’, a representative of the developers’ community said. Nobody consulted with the business representatives, the privatization program was not approved, and moreover, as a result the business community leaves for Leningrad and Moscow regions’.
Six months after the ‘Vedomosti’ publication and two weeks after the resignation of Poltavchenko the information leakage from the President’s administration confirms the allegations in regard to the new possible candidates and skeptical attitude towards the current governor 3. At the highest level Oksana Dmitrieva was presented as an alternative candidate, who is the deputy head of the faction ‘A Just Russia’ in the State Duma.
It is worth noting that according to the public opinion poll, which was carried out on June 25 by a Social Research Service of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, 13.6% of respondents in St. Petersburg said that they would vote for Oksana Dmitrieva in the Gubernatorial Election, what is by 25.6% less than for Georgy Poltavchenko 4.
Oksana Dmitrieva starts in with good results - 13.6%, however 39% of respondents gave their preference to Georgy Poltavchenko. Keeping in mind the empirical practice, common sense, and, for example, rating changes during the Moscow Mayoral campaign, a ‘government’ candidate starts with the maximum rating, however the support for him constantly decreases. In similar surveys there is always an ‘upper bound’; the opposition candidate is capable to achieve growing support (moreover, there are 35% of respondents, who have not yet decided on their choice).
Other experts pointed out the reason for an Early Elections – ‘municipal filter’ 5. The shift in the regional authorities could mix the cards of the federal authorities: ‘In September 2014, in St. Petersburg Local Election will be held; it might happen that after the Election the ‘municipal filter’ may fall into the hands of the opposition in respect to nomination of a candidate at the Gubernatorial Election. ‘The Cradle of Revolution’ firmly set up. Therefore, experts do not exclude the resignation of Poltavchenko, so that his successor could stand for the Election in September 2014 using the old ‘filter of United Russia’.
According to the other opinion, Poltavchenko has resigned and therefore the Gubernatorial Election is held due to a conflict between local elites and Poltavchenko. Our source, one of the opposition leaders of St. Petersburg, indicated the internal confrontations between ‘local’ and the ‘gubernatorial’ authorities in respect to municipal elections. These allegations were supported by the public conflict in the Shushari municipality where the ‘locals’, who have taken control over an elections committee, refused the registration of the United Russia party candidates, including the current head of the municipal entity and his team 6.
As a result, the ‘municipal filter’ was the main cause of the scandalous campaign.
Since 16 June, when the decision of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg on the election date was published, each and every political party (regional branch) - according to the Ministry of Justice there were 65 such parties at the beginning of the nomination process – had an opportunity to nominate a candidate. Only 7 political parties have nominated their candidates for Gubernatorial Election of St. Petersburg. Each candidate will have to collect 10% of municipal representatives’ signatures - at least 156.
The main competitor of the incumbent governor Georgy Poltavchenko is Oksana Dmitrieva, who is nominated by ‘Just Russia’; she has collected 111 signatures from only 51 municipal councils, while she should collect 156 signatures from 84 councils. Oksana Dmitrieva reported the high pressure on municipal council members, who were threatened with dismissal if they sign in favor of her. 7 As a result 5 signatures were invalidated for various reasons.
Therefore only not so well-known in the city nominees such as Alexander Petrov representing the party ‘Rodina’ and Tahir Bikbaev from the ‘Green Party’ has coped with the ‘municipal filter’. Irina Ivanova representing the Communist Party and a member of the Legislative Assembly representing the Liberal Democratic Party Konstantin Sukhenko were registered as candidates. 8
While the Gubernatorial campaign is carried out in a very ‘sterile’ environment, the Municipal Election becomes a key political and media event in St. Petersburg. In total, there are 111 municipal councils with 1409 local representatives.
The opposition was working on the campaign in advance and considered it as a key stage of preparation for the 2016 Legislative Assembly Election.
I can gather a team composed of hundreds of people in St. Petersburg who would stand for the municipal election and would try to win. If we are deceived - we expose deception, no - we will enter the municipal council and will give off a heat there. As we will manage to get in the municipal council we will try to get in the Legislative Assembly. 9
Apart from the RPR-Parnassus, the party ‘Civic Platform’ together with an affiliated youth movement Vesna’, as well as the party ‘Democratic Choice’, which in 2012 opened two schools for training the future parliamentarians, are getting ready for the municipal campaign. 10 As a result, various projects have joined the school for future parliamentarians; it trains and supports the coalition candidates. The Progress Party, ‘Civic Platform’, ‘Democratic Choice’, RPR-Parnassus and the Party ‘5th December’, the project ‘Municipal Saw’, the Anti-Corruption Foundation and the movement of ‘Vesna’ has announced the establishment of such a school. Earlier this year, the school was planning to train 2000 independent candidates. 11 ‘United Russia’ was as well intensively preparing for the Election. 1962 initial nominees expressed their will to take part in the intra-party primaries, what is about by 400 persons more than the total number of members of St. Petersburg municipal council. Some individuals were not enlisted to the party lists due to the internal intrigues, some simply followed the trend of recent years – ran for the election as independent candidates. 12
The secret internal conflicts within the ruling party predetermined the course of the municipal campaign. It turned out that not only the opposition considers the election as a key stage of the future battle for the seats in the Legislative Assembly. The ‘local’ elites and the Poltavchenko team fight for the influence over the regional institutions. It could be said that this battle implicated the scandal during the St. Petersburg Election. All known illegal technologies were used against the undesirable candidates, both representing the opposition and pro-government candidates.
A candidate to the municipal council in average had to collect about 15 signatures in 20 days. The campaign officially has started when the Election Day was announced.
The first burden in regard to documents submission was the lack of information on the beginning of the campaign. In the Semenovskoe municipal entity (ME) the decision was allegedly published on June 16, though the newspaper announcing the election date reached the Library only on June 24. 13
In ME Parnas the newspaper was available only since 27 June. On this day, it was registered at the central library system, although officially it was published 10 days before. 14
‘Shimmering’ election committees (hereinafter - ECME, Election Committee of municipal entity) were interesting phenomenon of the current campaign. In different districts a lot of candidates simply could not find the election committee.
For example, in the ME Parnas the representatives of the parliamentary parties, including the representatives of the party ‘United Russia’ and the opposition were trying to find ECME for more than a week. The municipal authorities responded that the opposition actually knows the location of the election committee office, thus it wants to provoke a scandal. 15 As a result, only independent candidates loyal to the member of the Legislative Assembly representing the party ‘United Russia’ Evgeny Marchenko were able to register their candidacy; the parliamentarian has a ‘strained relationship’ with the party leaders. 16
ECME disappeared as well in the above mentioned ME Semenov. An activist Stanislav Korotenko could not get the forms, as the ME representatives could not explain him where the election committee was located. When he found out the location, it turned out that the committee works under a strange schedule and has suspiciously long ‘lunch breaks’.
The representative of the ‘Civic Platform’ and the municipal council member of ME ‘Ekateringofsky’ Alexander Shurshev who has gathered a team of young candidates could not submit the documents to the ME Izmailovskoe. The municipality staff refused to explain him where the district election committee is located. 17 Though the head of ME Olga Bubnova passed by Shurshev while he was talking with the staff, she openly ignored the politician and refused to communicate with him and respectively disappeared.
ECME Zviozdnoe was the slyest and it initially pretended that the election was not announced at all in the district. There were about 50 candidates registered, who had some ‘insiders’ information. As a result of an information leakage to the press, the election committee decided to ‘make concessions’ and extended the work of the committee for one day. In terms of implementation of its duties the committee became exemplary, though it was the first one and the last one, where self-nominees could register their candidacy. 18
The undesirable queues, which appeared out of nowhere, often not progressing and preventing people from entering ECME, suddenly became a burden to the candidates.
For example, the self-nominated civic activist Olesia Yaroshenko could not personally submit her documents in order to register her candidacy to ECME Knyazhin. At first, she was at the end of the list of queuers, respectively she was waiting until the end of the working day. Next morning, 17 unidentified persons were standing in front of her in a queue: ‘ECME chairman refused to comment on the fact that the lists were swapped, we did not manage to check who was enlisted, as the chairman of ECME had the lists, we were not allowed to study or take a photograph of it.‘ While closing the ECME she was informed that it was the last day to submit documents and the previously presented information by the chairman of ECME was not correct. 19
I regret I have put so much effort, though I have not done so much in comparison to those people who have helped me, have given me advices and have supported with kind words. Therefore, I do not feel like leaving everything just like that. Tomorrow I and the other candidates who have been enlisted but who have not had yet an opportunity to submit their documents are going to file a complaint to the prosecutor and the St. Petersburg election committee.
In the ECME Shuvalov-Ozerki the queues were exposed in a more original way. One day, a ‘candidate’ from the crowd suddenly rushed into the office of the election committee and allegedly beat up everybody over there. The ECME was closed just after the arrival of ambulance. 20
The ECME Kronverskoe could be characterized as the committee which was not open for a long time due to sewage incidents. After a small bustle it was opened, though before anyone could enter it, a queue immediately appeared. According to Michael Konev, the fake queues were supervised by the Chief of Staff of the Legislative Assembly of St. Petersburg Denis Chetyrbok and the member of the ME Vvedenskii Yuri Shutov, who threatened to ‘break down’ independent candidates. 22 23
One could know about the queues in ECME Kolomyagi thanks to ‘stardom’ of nominated candidates. A private security service staff was using force to prevent Natalia Vorobjova, the Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling, from submitting the documents. The media attention to the peculiarities of the problematic district prevented both sides from being injured; Vladimir Kazachenok, the legend of FC ‘Zenit’ was standing as an independent candidate for the election of this ME. 24
According to the media reports, candidates have faced queues in numerous districts. The queues were reported in the ECMEs Levashov Settlement, Maskovskaya zastava and Pulkovskiy meridian. 25 In most of the cases the members of election committees initially were hiding themselves for a long time, then they were playing for time while opening the office and finally a crowd of strong youngsters was appearing at the entrance. The ECME Pulkovskiy meridian was the most famous of its queues; the video reports about it were published in the press. 26
One of the strangest cases occurred in ME Svetlanovskoe. Here the journalist of Zaks.Ru Artem Aleksandrov and the candidate to municipal council Danil Ken were assaulted by the deputy head of the ME Grigoryi Reviakin, who introduced himself as the ‘accountant of Pasha’. He hit the journalist and attempted to kill the candidate with a fire extinguisher. 27 The reason for the conflict was the alleged attempt of the journalist and the candidate to use the Xerox machine, which is a municipal property. Later on Reviakin said he did not want to kill Ken, but was simply ‘checking the fire extinguisher’. 28 29 The next day Danil Ken was assaulted again, though this time the assailant introduced himself as a ‘cossack’. It was not the end and the ECME Svetlanovskoe withdrew Danil Ken from the election, as well as the other independent candidates – Marina Kiseliova and Denis Polivina. The head of the municipal council was compelled to comment on the regional scandal. 30 As a result the head of ME was dismissed and opposition candidates were reinstated to the lists of candidates by the court decision.
The head of the ECME Ostrav Dekabristov Nikolai Reydalo was threatening to throw out of the window the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Progress Party Viktor Vorobyev. It has happened due to the candidate’s initiative to nominate a representative fulfilling an advisory role in the committee. 31
The queues have become such a burden that in one of the districts the candidates have organized a mini ‘Maidan’. The representatives of the party ‘Civic Platform’ set up a tent by the ECME Yuntolov and demanded a right to submit the documents, as every day a crowd of 70 people was appearing in front of them. 32
The representative of the Progress Party Viktor Vorobyev was denied registration by the ECME Ostrav Dekabristov, as some of persons, who initially had signed in favor of the candidate, decided to withdraw their signatures. ‘The entire week police was following people who expressed their preferences of our candidates by signing in favor of them and the police was particularly interested if the signees were not under the pressure while doing this’ - the candidate resented. 33 Consequently Vorobyov appealed against the refusal of the registration, won the case and based on the court decision he managed to register his candidacy. 34
In one of the districts of St. Petersburg, there were two identical municipal entities. The activist representing ‘Observers from St. Petersburg’ Pavel Galitovsky 35 has submitted all necessary documents in order to be registered at the ECME Uritsk. After 9 days, the election committee invalidated all 25 signatures presented by him. The reason was related with the official name of the ME. In the regulations it is written URITSK therefore Galitovsky was nominated to the other council under the name Uritsk. 36
There were more problems in regard to the verification of the signatures lists. Some election committees allowed to use any template, though afterwards they were invalidating the lists due to the non-compliance with template provisioned in the federal law. The signatures were as well invalidated if a candidate himself/herself was not enlisted as one of the persons in charge of collecting signatures. 37
The classical and at least in metropolitan cities seemingly old-fashioned tradition of bribing voters has revived in St. Petersburg. The journalists covering the election discovered on the public procurement website the information on the purchases of municipal entities. In late May the ME of Aptekarskiy island ordered 300 food packages and 185 boxes of sweets ‘Korkunov’ for ‘delivering it to citizens’ on the occasion of the Day of Physician and Social workers, as well as on the 12th June. The ME Ligovka – Yamskaya has spent almost 189 000 rubles for 102 food parcels, which consist of coffee, tea and biscuits, allegedly dedicated for congratulating the veterans.
The purposes specified in the contract looked like ‘fostering a positive image of the state in the mind of veterans' and ‘supporting veterans’ opinion that the state represented by the municipal government is mindful of them, and this should in turn fill people's hearts with happiness and pride’. The patriotic justification seemed a bit unrealistic as the parcels were ordered on May 8 and the items were received just at the end of the month. However, tea and biscuits are out of fashion. According to experts, people eat ‘the gifts’ well before the election and forget about the gratitude. Now bedding sets are fashionable gifts serving as a constant reminder of the benefactors. In June, the ME Chiornaya rechka ordered 2600 sets and 1737 towels for 2.9 million rubles. The ME Vladimirskiy okrug purchased 120 satin bedding sets for veterans. The ME Ekateringofsky has ordered 200 blankets and 25 towels. 38
Numerous lawsuits were induced by the massive violations of the candidates’ right to submit the documents for registering their candidacy. On July 22 ‘Just Russia’, the Communist Party, the Civic Platform, ‘Yabloko’, RPR-Parnassus and the Anti-corruption Foundation held a joint press conference. As the front-liners the leaders of organizations has reported on the battles and losses.
The Civic Platform has nominated 265 candidates. Less than half of the nominees (120 persons) have managed to submit documents in order to register their candidacy. 48 nominees simply could not enter the office of election committees, 72 candidates were denied the registration. RPR-Parnassus has nominated 44 candidates, though only 23 of them were registered. The representative of the party ‘Yabloko’ Mikhail Amosov could not specify the accurate data, but according to him, half of two hundred party nominees faced some problems.
‘Just Russia’ has nominated 918 candidates. 642 nominees have managed to submit the first set of documents, 579 candidates - the second set (lists of signatures). By the time of the press conference 90 nominees were withdrawn from the campaign. 327 nominees have managed to register their candidacy. The Communist Party has nominated more than 600 candidates, 75 of them were denied the registration and 244 were registered. 39
Consequently, ‘Just Russia’ filed 19 complaints. 40 At least 8 complaints were filed to ME Yuntolov by the defenders of the Dolgoozerny square. 41 The Anti-corruption Foundation filed a lawsuit to a court, 42 as well as the party ‘Yabloko’. Just after the mass flow of opposition complaints, the candidacy of the party activist Eduard Korolev was registered; he was initially denied the registration at the ECME Grazhdanka due to the numerous violations. 43
At the stage of candidates’ registration there were almost no intrigues in regard to the Gubernatorial and Municipal elections in St. Petersburg, as well as the Moscow Duma Election 44. The local administration was doing their best to eliminate the competitors and to facilitate deliberately harsh conditions for independent candidates.
Actually the ‘municipal filter’ served as the electoral threshold for the main competitor - the incumbent governor Georgy Poltavchenko and the deputy chairman of the ‘Just Russia’ faction in the State Duma Oksana Dmitrieva. Mrs. Dmitrieva was lacking the signatures of approximately one third of regional council members and she dropped out of the race. Anatoly Golov, the co-chair of the Consumers Union of Russia, who was nominated by ‘Yabloko’, refused to collect signatures and submitted just the financial statement. Just for the sake of competition the municipal council has registered the candidacy of the representative of the party ‘Rodina’ Andrei Petrov, as well as the candidates of the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the ‘Greens’, respectively Irina Ivanova, Konstantin Sukhenko and Tahir Bikbaev. All the signs indicating the competition were de facto neglected when the candidates signed an amazing memorandum ‘The seven principles of honest and gallant election’ in the Mariinsky Palace. 45
The municipal election seemed to be ‘livelier’, despite the fact that half of the independent candidates were not registered. The real competition could be observed for the seats in the municipal council as well as for the influence in the regions while looking into the future - the Election to the Legislative Assembly. Two groups within the ruling party, ‘local’ and ‘gubernatorial’, the systemic and non-systemic opposition compete in the battle. The representatives of various opposition parties are trying to facilitate the competition in the election by holding joint press conferences and filing numerous lawsuits based on violations. Unfortunately, so many such violations (non-admission of nominees candidacy in the election) were recorded: the district election committees hiding from candidates, suppressed information in respect to the beginning of the election processes and the procedure of documents submission, the deceived self-nominated activists, suddenly closing committees’ offices, fake queues enforced with the assistance of ‘titushek’ and the state employees, who were blocking the entrance to the building and were often provoking a scrum.
The head of municipal entities were keeping the same pace as the election committees in respect to the violations. MEs were putting online the information on public procurement – the purchases of food packages and bedding sets in order to gain the loyalty of socially disadvantaged voters. In Svetlanovsky the deputy head of the ME assaulted the journalist, as well as he tried to kill the opposition candidate with a fire extinguisher. The candidates who managed to submit the documents, were refused the registration due to a number of far-fetched reasons. In one of the districts the candidates were ought to organize a mini ‘maidan’ by setting up a tent at the entrance of ECME. In many cases the intensive protests and numerous lawsuits positively affected the situation. The administration of St. Petersburg, which was afraid of discredit of the Gubernatorial Election, tried to extinguish the major scandals. The judicial interference was the only means of conflict resolution accepted by both the government and the opposition.