On September 9, eighty regions across Russia held elections at different levels, including 22 gubernatorial races, 16 legislative assembly races, and 12 races for the city councils of regional centers. Seven single-mandate districts also held special elections for seats in the State Duma. Unexpectedly, gubernatorial competitors succeeded in forcing runoff elections in four regions where candidates backed by the authorities failed to win more than 50 percent.
According to the figures from Vladivostok, a runoff election is coming to the Primorsky Krai, where the United Russia candidate — acting Governor Andrey Tarasenko — won 46.57 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidate Andrey Ishchenko took home 24.64 percent. Turnout was 30.24 percent.
The two Andreys have already confirmed their intention to compete in a runoff election. “I believe that the driving force behind my support was that I came out and criticized pension reform. Additionally, I’m supported by the social group ‘Children of War’ and my native Primorye, where I was born and where I work. Of course I’ll compete in the second round. I spoke to the Communist Party leadership and they promised to support me,” Ishchenko told the news agency TASS.
Another region in the Far East making problems for United Russia is Khabarovsk Krai, where LDPR State Duma deputy Sergey Furgal is leading incumbent Governor Vyacheslav Shport by less than a percentage point (with 97 percent of the votes counted): 35.81 percent for Furgal and 35.62 percent for Shport. The second round is set for September 23, and both politicians say they're staying in the race.
Sergey Lugovskoi, the secretary of the Khabarovsk Krai United Russia branch and the speaker of the regional legislative assembly, said after the first round of voting that he doesn’t consider the results to be a defeat for the party. “We still have time. We don’t see this as a defeat,” he told TASS. “This is simply the step that we have to take together, in order to win in the second round.”
Sergey Furgal says he stands for “regional egoism,” which he’s careful to say “isn’t separatism,” and he advocates “urgent measures to restore Khabarovsk’s true status as a Far Eastern capital.” He’s also promised to cut the government bureaucracy by 20 percent.
A runoff election is coming to Khakassia, as well, where Communist Party candidate and Abakan city councilman Valentin Konovalov surprisingly outperformed United Russia candidate and acting Governor Viktor Zimin (44.81 percent to 32.42 percent).
In the Vladimir region, incumbent Governor Svetlana Orlova won 36.42 percent of the vote. In the second round, she will face LDPR’s Vladimir Sipyagin, who won 31.19 percent. In 2013, months after being appointed as acting governor by President Putin, Orlova cruised to an easy victory with more than 74 percent of the vote.
There were no surprises in Russia’s other gubernatorial races. In Moscow, Sunday’s biggest prize, incumbent Mayor Sergey Sobyanin won reelection with a commanding 69.54 percent, trouncing the Communist Party candidate, Vadim Kumin (who won 11.65 percent). President Putin has already telephoned Sobyanin to congratulate him, who nearly had to compete in a runoff election against Alexey Navalny in 2013.
In the Moscow region, incumbent Governor Andrey Vorobyov won 62.5 percent of the vote, though his support in Volokolamsk (where locals have protested for months against an overflowing trash dump) was just 20.68 percent, and Communist Party candidate Konstantin Cheremisov outdid him with 29 percent. In Ruza, where the authorities want to build two temporary landfills, Vorobyov also enjoyed less support (only 27.8 percent).
Acting governor of the Altai Krai, United Russia candidate Viktor Tomenko, won with 53.61 percent of the vote; acting Omsk Governor Alexander Burkov won with 82.5 percent; acting Magadan Governor Sergey Nosov won with 81.59 percent; acting Novosibirsk Governor and United Russia candidate Andrey Travnikov won with 64.52 percent; and acting Pskov Governor Mikhail Vedernikov won with 70.68 percent of the vote. Andrey Klychkov, the former head of the Communist Party’s faction in the Moscow City Duma and the acting governor of Oryol, won 83.55 percent of the vote — one of the biggest victory margins recorded anywhere on Sunday. Acting Amur Governor Vasily Orlov won with 55.6 percent; acting Yakutia Governor Aisen Nikolaev won nearly 72 percent of the vote; acting Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Uss won 60.19 percent; acting Ivanovo Governor Stanislav Voskresensky won 65.72 percent; and acting Tyumen Governor Alexander Moor won with 65.86 percent.
In one regional center, in the city of Yakutsk (the capital of the Sakha Republic), United Russia’s opponent actually won an outright victory. Sardana Avksentyeva, the candidate from the “Party of Russia’s Revival,” is the town’s new mayor. She won almost 40 percent of the vote, defeating United Russia’s Alexander Savvinov, who finished with 31.81 percent, despite the endorsement of Governor Aisen Nikolaev. At 5 a.m., the morning after the election, Nikolaev met with Avksentyeva, who then told reporters, “He is a wise man and an experienced leader, who respects the people’s choice. To prevent any speculation, let me tell you now that we had a very good meeting. Mr. Nikolaev and I will make every effort to develop Yakutsk further. Together with the public, we’ve done something incredible: honest elections have taken place. The people have spoken, and now we're getting to work.”
Political consultant Ilya Paimushkin, who worked with Avksentyeva, told Meduza that voters in Yakutsk wanted an “active candidate who communicates.” “There were three main candidates nominated in this race: well-known Il Tumen [legislative assembly] deputy Vladimir Fedorov, former district administration staff director Sardana Avksentyeva, and city council chairman Alexander Savvinov, who’d served for 15 years already and was a weak candidate from the start, because of his age and reclusiveness. After the Rodina party withdrew Fedorov’s nomination, the race was left with two clear leaders,” Paimushkin says. “Removing Fedorov, in my view, was the catalyst that mobilized voters who wanted the authorities to start listening to them. The city does a poor job engaging the community, and locals want to participate in the decision-making process on housing and communal services, beautification, and so on. Avksentyeva proved to be the more competent, accessible, and coherent candidate.”
Regional parliamentary elections held a few surprises, too. In the Irkutsk region, with 90 percent of the votes counted, the Communist Party led with 34 percent and United Russia had just 27.7 percent. This isn’t the first time Irkutsk has been an electoral anomaly for the country’s ruling political party: In 2015, Communist Party candidate Sergey Levchenko unexpectedly forced and won a runoff vote against United Russia candidate and acting Governor Sergey Eroshchenko. It was the only second-round gubernatorial election that year.
“A new political situation is ripening that must be reckoned with,” said 74-year-old Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, noting that it was “fundamentally important that a strong team enter the Irkutsk legislative assembly, in order to help Governor Sergey Levchenko realize the five-year plan that he’s presented to the people of the region.”
The Communists also outdid United Russia in Khakassia (31 percent to 25.5 percent) and in the Ulyanovsk region (36.3 percent to 34 percent).
At least two new political parties won seats in different legislative assemblies, granting them the privilege of fielding State Duma candidates in future parliamentary elections. According to preliminary data, the Communist Party of Social Justice (KPSS) won 6.14 percent of the vote in the Vladimir region, gaining a presence in the zaksobranie. Russian election law grants “parliamentary privileges” to any parties with even one deputy elected by party list to any legislative assembly. (This is the privilege Boris Nemtsov’s old political party just lost.) In the Vladimir region, United Russia won 29.57 percent, the Communist Party was close behind with 23.66 percent, and Just Russia took home 10.2 percent.
The other party that will apparently enjoy parliamentary privileges is the Pensioners of Russia Party, which reportedly won 6.15 percent of the vote in the Zabaykalsky Krai’s legislative assembly race. United Russia performed modestly here, as well, winning 28.43 percent of the vote, just ahead of the Communists (24.57 percent), LDPR (24.52 percent), and Just Russia (8.91 percent).
“If we said before that the Communist Party firmly holds the position of Russia’s second political force, we can now say that these elections showed that a qualitatively new level of competition with United Russia has emerged,” said the Communist Party Central Committee’s first deputy chairman, Ivan Melnikov, commenting on Sunday’s results.
The State Duma special elections were more predictable, with United Russia winning every single-mandate race in which it competed. The party now adds the following deputies to its faction in the State Duma: Sergey Veremeenko, Alexander Khinshtein, Dmitry Svatkovsky, and Alexander Yaroshuk. The two remaining seats will go to members of the Communist Party and LDPR.
Central Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova says Sunday’s vote passed “calmly” and “without any serious violations.” The most flagrant offense occurred in Buryatia, where the deputy head of a local voting precinct in Ulan-Ude tried to take seven ballots cast for United Russia into a temporary holding facility, according to Dmitry Ivailovsky, the chairman of Buryatia’s local election commission. Police have charged the official with falsifying election documents. “The individual’s motives are unclear. The facts are such that he also tore up other ballots that were in the voting precinct. He’s testified that he acted alone,” Ivailovsky said.