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December 7, 2004
3 Regions Reject the Kremlin's Picks
By Francesca Mereu
Voters in six gubernatorial elections Sunday gave somewhat lukewarm backing to United Russia candidates, in an indication that people may be becoming tired of the Kremlin's managed democracy.
The elections -- likely to be the last opportunity for the regions to vote for their governors without the Kremlin's approval -- saw one victory and one defeat for Kremlin-backed candidates, with four races going to a runoff.
The United Russia candidate in Pskov, incumbent Governor Yevgeny Mikhailov, lost against local businessman Mikhail Kuznetsov in a runoff, while in Astrakhan, Kremlin-backed acting Governor Alexander Zhilkin won a clear victory ahead of seven other contenders.
Four other regions -- Bryansk, Ulyanovsk, Volgograd and Kamchatka -- face a runoff on Dec. 26 after no candidate managed to win 50 percent of the vote. United Russia led in Bryansk and Ulyanovsk, but placed second in Kamchatka and was ejected from the race in Volgograd.
Analysts criticized Sunday's elections as being tarnished by manipulations, with one incumbent Communist governor struck off the ballot days before the vote and another facing a criminal investigation. With many voters casting their ballots against all candidates, rather than for United Russia, analysts said that Sunday's elections showed the Kremlin's party is still "too weak" in many regions and that people are becoming tired of "managed democracy."
"People are fed up with fake elections," said independent analyst Andrei Piontkovsky. "This is also a reason why many people voted against all. [President Vladimir] Putin's managed democracy is not getting the people's support."
"The elections were more or less fair, but not free, since they were manipulated," said Nikolai Petrov, a regional analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. "It's impossible to talk about free elections when days before the vote strong but 'undesirable' candidates were taken off the ballot, while investigations were started against others."
Bryansk Governor Yury Lodkin, a Communist, was abruptly struck off the ballot late last month after being accused of using "administrative resources" to help his campaign. Another Communist governor, Mikhail Mashkovtsev, from Kamchatka, is under investigation for misuse of state funds.
In Pskov, Kuznetsov, the head of the Pskov Flour Mill and a former State Duma deputy who is backed by the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, won 49 percent of the vote, ahead of United Russia's Mikhailov with 41 percent. More than 8 percent voted against all, Interfax reported. Mikhailov, who was first elected in 1996 on the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party ticket, was running for the third time.
In Astrakhan, Zhilkin garnered 65 percent of the votes. Regional Duma Deputy Igor Negeryev was a distant second with 15 percent, with against all placed third, Interfax reported.
In Bryansk, against all came in second with 21 percent, behind United Russia candidate Nikolai Denin with 43 percent, in a clear protest against Lodkin's exclusion from the ballot. Denin faces a runoff with SPS candidate Yevgeny Zelenko, who placed third with 13 percent.
In Ulyanovsk the incumbent governor, retired General Vladimir Shamanov, withdrew from the race last month after being appointed an aide to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov.
In Shamanov's absence, Dmitrovgrad Mayor Sergei Morozov led with 28 percent of the votes. Morozov received the backing of United Russia and Sergei Kiriyenko, the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District. Morozov faces a runoff with businessman Sergei Gerasimov, who won 20 percent of the votes, while 11 percent voted against all. The turnout was 51 percent.
United Russia failed miserably in Volgograd, where more people voted against all than for its two candidates.
The region's incumbent governor, Communist Nikolai Maksyuta, faces a runoff against Nikolai Volkov, the head of the Volgograd city council. Maksyuta won 41 percent of the votes, ahead of Volkov at 13.19 percent, while 12.98 percent voted against all. United Russia Duma deputies Vladimir Goryunov and Oleg Savchenko both received less than 10 percent of the votes.
Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev led a field of 16 candidates in Kamchatka with 38 percent of the votes, despite being investigated on charges of misusing $5 million in state funds and illegally handing out salmon quotas. Mashkovtsev faces a runoff against Boris Nevzorov, who heads a local district and was backed by United Russia. Nevzorov got 24 percent of the votes.
A runoff election in Kurgan was postponed at the last moment after a regional court on Saturday ruled that it could not be held one week after the first round.
The local elections commission has to set a new date for the vote, where incumbent Governor Oleg Bogomolov will face off against Moscow businessman Yevgeny Sobakin, an SPS candidate.
Sunday's elections were the biggest batch remaining this year. Next year, Putin is to pick candidates and submit their names to regional legislatures for confirmation, according to a bill approved in a third reading by the State Duma last Friday. Putin will also have the right to fire regional leaders.
 A Duma by-election in Moscow's Preobrazhensky single-mandate district, to fill the seat vacated by Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov in March, was declared invalid after only 24.49 percent of voters turned out to vote. A minimum of 25 percent is required for Duma elections to be valid.
Yabloko's Sergei Mitrokhin was running against Rodina's Mikhail Delyagin and a United Russia candidate named, curiously enough, Alexander Zhukov.