Cablegate: Once-Pluralistic Altay Kray Starts To

Published: Thu 23 Aug 2007 04:06 AM
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REF: 06 MOSCOW 13168
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1. (SBU) During an August 8-11 visit to Altay Kray, we
found the region's traditional political diversity
succumbing to the United Russia (YR) political machine
fueled by the Governor's May 2007 YR party conversion.
Reflecting the national line-up, YR, For a Just Russia
(SR), the Communists (KPRF) and the LDPR are expected
to secure places in the State Duma. The Communist
Party and the Agrarian Party still enjoy considerable
popularity but dwindling votes, while the liberal
Republican Party of Russia (led by Altay's Vladimir
Ryzhkov) and Yabloko verge on irrelevancy. Local
party leaders complained about their lack of access to
media outlets and United Russia's abuse of
administrative resources for campaigning. End
Election Outlook
2. (SBU) While local party leaders of all stripes
expect that YR will get the majority vote in the Kray
in December, most also expect that LDPR, the Communist
Party (KPRF), and For A Just Russia (SR) will also win
seats in the State Duma. Historically, YR has not
been as strong in Altay Kray as it has been elsewhere,
since Altay Kray belongs to the "Red Belt" region
whose large rural population supported the KPRF and
the nationally moribund Agrarian Party. The
electorate had also supported a broad range of smaller
parties such as Yabloko, Union of Right Forces (SPS),
and the Republican Party of Russia (RPR) (reftel).
3. (SBU) Local party leaders emphasized that Altay
Kray retained a pluralistic political atmosphere, yet
the smaller parties now complain of an increasingly
restrictive field for political action. Following
Governor Aleksandr Karlin's move to United Russia in
May, most of the other members of the Kray
administration followed. As a result, in the upcoming
elections, other parties must contend with a much
stronger YR, which controls the Kray government and
its significant administrative resources.
Administrative Resources and Media Access
4. (SBU) The political benefits of incumbency are
evident in the capital city Barnaul. YR posted
several billboards promoting presidential "Priority
Projects" that prominently featured the YR logo along
with the name and picture of the Duma deputy from the
Kray who supported the program. YR also flaunted its
access to public events unavailable to the other
parties, such as the Kray's upcoming 70th anniversary
celebrations. According to local YR leaders, public
works, beautification projects and televised
celebrations presided over by YR candidates will be
part of YR's election campaign.
5. (SBU) All parties with the exception of YR
expressed difficulty in obtaining access to media.
The smaller parties claimed that the media self-
censors so as not to offend an increasingly YR-
oriented regional government. At the same time,
Yabloko, SPS and KPRF indicated that scarce campaign
funds limit their access to an increasingly expensive
media market.
6. (SBU) The local head of SPS, Vladimir Nebalzin,
said that his party had turned to grass-roots efforts
such as door-to-door canvassing and distribution of
thousands of fliers and brochures. The other parties
including KPRF and Yabloko indicated they would use
similar strategies. Despite its vaunted status as the
second "party of power", SR seemed to face the same
hurdles in securing media coverage. They have used
their stronger financial backing to produce slick,
sophisticated campaign materials but do not command
the resources to begin their campaigns as early as YR
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clearly has.
United Russia Dismissive of Other Parties
7. (SBU) Nikolay Gerasimenko, a Duma deputy and
leader of Altay Kray's YR branch since June, portrayed
YR as a Western-style democratic party that was very
much concerned with the problems of Russia. He
described in party-apparatchik style how "Plan Putin"
was both the core achievement and the basic platform
of the party for the upcoming campaign. The plan
covers such things as health care, education, and
pensions. Gerasimenko said that YR expects 30-40
percent of the vote in the region, but that the
remaining votes were up for grabs.
8. (SBU) Gerasimenko was visibly bored when
discussing his opinions of other parties. "KPRF is a
party of the past that offers only criticism," he
said. "SPS is the party of big capital, but has
turned left-wing. SR promises but YR delivers. And I
don't even think about LDPR."
For a Just Russia: The Official Opposition
9. (SBU) For A Just Russia's Aleksandr Shkraba
acknowledged that his party began as a Kremlin
project, but claimed that the party represented a
coherent center-left alternative to United Russia. SR
will campaign on this message to tap into Altay Kray's
historic left-wing support. Shkraba emphasized his
party's support of the president by saying that SR was
the new brand of Putin, "the new opposition for the
new political system." Shkraba acknowledged that they
had accomplished little as a party besides criticizing
United Russia, which he attributed to SR's need to
build its party organization after its October 2006
The Democratic Opposition is Depressed
10. (SBU) The fate of Barnaul's most famous political
son, Republican Party of Russia leader Vladimir
Ryzhkov, has cast a pall on the opposition. The
recent Supreme Court decision, affirming the Central
Election Commission's disqualification of the party,
effectively killed RPR as a political entity. Local
RPR leaders Valeriy Gachman, Andrey Olishevskiy and
Gennadiy Sheyda said they were uncertain how to move
forward. Some members wanted to reconstitute as a
social movement or NGO and maintain the party's
structure until it could be re-registered. Others
feared losing momentum and activists to SR and SPS.
Ryzhkov remains personally popular with interlocutors
agreeing that he would bring considerable local
advantage to any party list that he joined. While
local journalist Svetlana Chistyakova told us that
Ryzhkov's choice of his next party perch could
significantly affect the region's voting results, the
RPR leader has yet to secure alternative political
party backing, with local SR leader Shkraba
reinforcing that Ryzhkov would not necessarily be
welcome on their list.
11. (SBU) The atmosphere at Yabloko was not much
better. Local Yabloko chairman, Aleksandr
Goncharenko, was pessimistic about Russia's future.
He saw no independent media outlets to get his message
out found the population politically lethargic and
disconnected. Goncharenko said that Yabloko has not
been able to draw crowds to recent rallies on local
issues like it has in the past. Outside observers
agree that Yabloko's chances of winning seats in the
Duma are weak.
Fading KPRF and Agrarians
12. (SBU) Both the Communists and the Agrarian Party
enjoy a loyal but shrinking electoral base. The local
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KPRF secretary Petr Nonarin and Political Committee
member Vladimir Zolotov argued that the KPRF was
limited because of federal manipulation of and control
over political parties, but they did not impress us
with their political dynamism. Sitting under an
oversized portrait of Lenin, Nonarin and Zolotov
attempted to distance the party from the country's
Communist past. The Agrarian Party will get some
political mileage from the support of former Russian
Minister of Agriculture and current chairman of the
Altay Kray Soviet of People's Deputies, Aleksandr
Nazarchuk. He will lead the party's national three-
candidate list. Claiming that the Agrarian Party was
the "true party of Russia, the party of the peasants,"
Nazarchuk attempted to put a modern spin on the party
platform by promoting ethanol and bio-fuels programs.
Both parties are counting on their traditional bases
of support: the traditional left-wing electorate and
rural, agricultural workers.
Uncertainty on the Party Lists
13. (SBU) The local party machines were all
developing their regional lists of 12-13 candidates
for the upcoming elections. YR is using a system or
"primaries" that Gerasimenko compared to Western
political primaries even as he admitted that the
national party leadership will maintain control over
the final composition and order of all party lists,
regardless of the primary results. Other parties will
finalize their local lists at party conferences in
August and September.
14. (SBU) Press reports have alleged that parties in
Altay Kray have been selling slots on their party
lists, with more sure-winner positions going for
higher prices. Many party leaders confirmed that the
practice was widespread, but pointed the finger at
other parties. Altay Kray election commissioner
Sergey Sytykh said that he did not believe that such
commerce took place, while admitting that the practice
would be impossible to detect and difficult to stop.
KPRF leaders said that seat selling was a fact of
regional and national politics, but only for other
parties; the KPRF has "never" sold any of its slots.
15. (SBU) Comment: The once-diverse political scene in
Altay Kray is being converted into yet another version
of the national model, with United Russia on top and
other parties scrambling for the remaining pieces.
The losers in this process Q especially the KPRF and
Agrarian party Q watch as their support bleeds away,
but lack a plan to stop or reverse the trend. End
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