Cablegate: A Look Ahead to the October 12 Regional Elections

Published: Fri 12 Sep 2008 11:05 AM
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1. (SBU) Summary: On October 12, five regions (Chechnya,
Zabaykalskiy Kray, Irkutsk, and Kemerovo and Sakhalin
Oblasts) will elect their respective regional parliaments.
Also, throughout Russia over 90 municipal and by-elections
will take place, including by-elections in Chukotka. United
Russia has taken the elections most seriously, and is
expected to emerge victorious in each region, with Irkutsk
promising mild competition with Just Russia. Ballots in the
regions will feature between four and seven party choices,
with all four of the parties represented in the State Duma
included, but none of the traditional "liberal" parties. The
Union of Right Forces is considering challenging in court
their failure to be registered, but observers downplay
prospects for success, questioning both the merits of the
case and the political atmosphere. Many observers expect
that regional United Russia party/government leaders will be
judged by the results they deliver, determining their own
political futures in advance of the party's November national
congress. Septels will follow reporting on specific issues
and personalities in each region, as well as analysis of the
activities of major parties. End Summary.
2. (SBU) Regional elections are held in accordance with
federal and regional electoral legislation and thus vary from
region to region. Regional parliaments can be elected either
by proportional representation or by a mixed electoral
system, in which some single-mandate candidates can still win
seats in parliament despite their party's failure to register
a candidate list. Chechnya is the only region to use only
proportional representation, so only parties will run and
deputies will be selected from their respective party lists
according to the results. The other four regions will use a
mixed electoral system: half of the deputies will be elected
from party lists and half from single-mandate candidates, who
may be party members or independent candidates. The passing
threshold to win party seats in all five regions is 7
percent. Law demands that at least two parties should be
represented in each parliament. Even if any one party wins
more than 60 percent and all other parties each win less than
the required 7 percent, the party with the second most votes
will still get seats in the parliament.
3. (SBU) The parliamentary parties -- those represented in
the State Duma -- are exempt from collecting signatures of
supporters and from paying an electoral pledge fee. They
have all successfully registered in all 5 regions, where
ballots contain from 4 to 7 party choices. All other
registered parties wishing to participate in elections must
either collect the signatures or pay the pledge fee. Each
region determines the number of signatures, the amount of the
pledge, and the threshold for winning seats. Pledge
requirements for parties range from 1 million rubles (about
40,000 USD) in Sakhalin to 6 million rubles (about 240,000
USD) in Irkutsk. These high fees resulted in non-Duma
parties opting instead for the signature requirements. None
of the other traditional opposition "liberal" parties are
registered to compete in the forthcoming elections.
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4. (SBU) A September 10 media report stated that the Union of
Right Forces (SPS) and Patriots of Russia parties may attempt
to restore their party lists through the courts. The report
added that SPS officials believed the party could do well
enough in the Kemerovo election to win seats in the regional
parliament, but its own lawyers acknowledged that overturning
registration denials through the courts would be exceptional.
Media reported September 12 that SPS is considering an
urgent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to
attempt to compel authorities to include the party on
regional ballots. Yabloko leader Sergey Mitrokhin told the
press that his party will not seek to overturn their denial
in Sakhalin Oblast because "experience shows that an appeal
to the courts is meaningless...We have no courts, just as
there is no election." Mitrokhin pointed to Yabloko's
failure to overturn his party's registration denial in
previous St. Petersburg regional elections.
5. (SBU) Patriots of Russia Party vice-chairman Nadezhda
Korneeva complained in a media report that her party had been
unfairly excluded from ballots in Sakhalin and Irkutsk,
adding that "all of our (signature) collectors are willing to
come to court and prove" that the signatures are valid.
According to her, current election laws are prejudiced in
favor of Duma parties because they do not need to collect
signatures or make an electoral pledge.
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6. (SBU) It has become traditional in Russian elections for
party lists to be topped by party leaders during federal
elections and by heads of regions and federal or regional
party leaders during regional campaigns. These top-level
functionaries, dubbed "locomotives," as a rule refuse to join
the parliaments. They are involved in the campaigns in hope
that their authority and popularity will help their
respective parties to win. In regional campaigns, United
Russia usually tops its party lists with governors and mayors
of the regional capitals. The Communist Party (KPRF), LDPR,
and Just Russia appoint their most popular federal and
regional leaders to top their lists, although Just Russia
until recently had been critical of the "locomotive" practice.
7. (SBU) United Russia will head regional party lists with
the following locomotives: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov
in Chechnya; Governor Ravil Geniatullin and Chita Mayor
Anatoliy Mikhalev in Zabaykalskiy Kray; Governor Aman Tuleyev
in Kemerovo; Governor Aleksandr Khoroshavin in Sakhalin; and
Acting Governor Igor Yesipovskiy in Irkutsk (The election
results will determine whether Yesipovskiy will continue to
be "acting.") Moscow Carnegie Center regional expert Nikolay
Petrov told us that he expects United Russia to emerge
victorious in each region, but that in Irkutsk intra-party
competition between rival clans under the United Russia roof
could leave the party apparatus there in worse shape as a
result of the elections. Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitrieva (Just
Russia) confirmed to us that her party regards Irkutsk as the
only region in which it stands to do well on October 12 -
both due to the party's appeal and to United Russia
vulnerabilities there.
8. (SBU) The republic will elect only its second parliament.
An amendment to the Chechen constitution, passed by
referendum in December 2007, transformed the bicameral
parliament (elected in November 2005) to unicameral in order
to strengthen vertical power and bring it in line with other
regional parliaments. The number of parliamentarians has
been lowered from 61 to 41. Chechnya will elect its
parliament through a proportional representation system, so
only parties may run in the election. Nine parties submitted
candidate lists, and authorities approved seven to appear on
the ballot in the following order: United Russia, Liberal
Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), Patriots of Russia, Peace
and Unity, People's Union, Communist Party (KPRF) and Just
Russia (SR).
9. (SBU) Authorities denied registration to Union of Right
Forces (SPS) and Zelenye (an ecological party) because more
than 20 percent of submitted signatures were deemed
deficient. According to a recent opinion poll by the Center
of Strategic Studies and Development of Civil Society in
North Caucasus (SK-Strategia), 84.3 percent of the Chechen
Republic's population intend to vote.
10. (SBU) In an August 27 media report, political expert
Aleksandr Kynev predicted that only the Communists would have
a chance of joining United Russia in the Chechen parliament.
The other parties, he observed, are running exclusively for
the sake of retaining their registered status.
11. (SBU) Irkutsk is a new, enlarged region since Ust-Orda
Burta Autonomous Oblast joined it in January 2008. It will
elect its first parliament of 50 deputies. Seven parties
submitted candidate lists, and authorities approved six to
appear on the ballot, in the following order: Ecological
Party "Zelenye," United Russia, KPRF, LDPR, Agrarian Party,
and SR.
12. (SBU) Authorities denied registration to Patriots of
Russia because more than 20 percent of the submitted
signatures were deemed deficient.
13. (SBU) Thirty elections of different levels will take
place throughout the region on October 12. Voters will elect
12 mayors and 17 representative bodies of self-government.
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The regional parliament is 36 deputies strong, 18 elected
each from party lists and single-mandate candidates. There
are 150 claimants to the 36 seats, 80 from the parties and 70
from single-mandate candidates. Six parties submitted
candidate lists, and authorities approved four to appear on
the ballot, in the following order: United Russia, KPRF, SR,
and LDPR.
14. (SBU) Authorities denied registration to Union of Right
Forces (SPS) and Party of Peace and Unity because more than
10 percent of the submitted signatures were deemed deficient.
15. (SBU) The region will elect deputies to 28 seats in the
regional parliament. Seven parties submitted candidate
lists, and authorities approved four (the State Duma parties)
to appear on the ballot: SR, LDPR, KPRF and United Russia.
16. (SBU) Authorities denied registration to Yabloko and
Patriots of Russia because of reported deficiencies in their
submitted signatures, and People's Union failed to collect
the required number of signatures.
Zabaykalskiy Kray
17. (SBU) Zabaykalskiy Kray is a new region in the Russian
Federation created on March 1, 2008, with the merger of Chita
Oblast and Aginsk Buryat Autonomous Okrug. In its first
parliament since the merger, it will elect 50 deputies, half
from party lists and half from single-mandate candidates.
18. (SBU) Seven parties notified the election commission of
their intention to participate in elections to the Kray's
parliament. Authorities denied Ecological Party "Zelenye"
for failing to collect enough signatures; six other parties
submitted all required documents on time. The four
parliamentary parties (United Russia, KPRF, LDPR, and SR)
have been approved, but final information is not yet
available on registration for the Agrarian Party or the
Democratic Party. A September 10 media report quoted
Democratic Party leader Andrey Bogdanov as saying that his
party knew that their staff "did not collect signatures
entirely correctly."
19. (SBU) The parliament of Chukotka has three vacant seats
to fill during its by-elections on October 12. The former
governor, Roman Abramovich, has been registered as one of the
candidates. His former deputies, Andrey Gorodilov and
Aramais Dallakyan, are running from two other single-mandate
districts. There are only 12 deputies in the Chukotka
government, of which 6 each are elected from party lists and
single-mandate districts. Thus, it is very likely that
one-fourth of the parliament will be staffed by Abramovich
and his people.
20. (SBU) Comment: In the view of many experts, the elections
are more about the ability of regional United Russia leaders
to deliver for the party and thereby make their case to the
national leadership for remaining in their party and
government positions. The election results, together with
United Russia plans to re-assess how regional party and
government officials are selected, will be a major topic for
discussion at United Russia's November national congress.
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