Russia » Politics
Author`s name Michael Simpson

St.Petersburg Governor Elections: No Free Will?

Valentina Matviyenko has suffered a defeat at the gubernatorial elections in St.Petersburg even despite of the fact that she managed to win three times more votes than her closest rival
But the election headquarters of Valentina Matviyenko has failed to carry out the main objective of winning the elections in the first round. And this is at the time when every possible measure was taken for this victory.

Presidential envoy in Russia's North-West District together with St.Petersburg governor organized the celebration of the 300th birthday of the northern capital. After that, governor Vladimir Yakovlev was made a proposition which he couldn't reject (he was offered the position of vice-premier supervising the housing and communal sector). If he rejected the proposition and still attempted to participate in the gubernatorial elections, that would have been the final step in his political career. When the governor quitted, the city was handed over to the control of the presidential envoy. Immediately, a strongly concentrated and perfectly purposeful pre-election campaign was started in the city. It should be mentioned here that the gubernatorial elections in St.Petersburg were incredibly scandalous regarding the number of black and dirty technologies involved. Indeed, court examinations followed one another; the police and law enforcement authorities cursed the elections as they had to execute their responsibilities and at the same time felt the pressure from above.

The propaganda machinery was in perpetual motion and kept on producing pre-election propaganda every day. All necessary measures were taken to become insured against any possible problem. To guarantee high attendance of the electorate a maximally low limit of attendance was fixed which made up 20 per cent. More or less famous politicians of the federal level were not allowed to participate in the elections. Almost all political parties and movements voiced their support to Valentina Matviyenko; when some of the candidates to the gubernatorial position pulled out they gave Valentina Matviyenko a vote of confidence. Russia President Vladimir Putin approved of the pre-election work of the presidential envoy Matviyenko. So, the only thing to do was good organization of the voting process itself. Even though candidate Valentina Matviyenko and her pre-election headquarters optimistically declared before and after the voting that they were not scared with the opportunity of the second round of the elections, they were still slightly shocked to learn that the second round of elections was to take place.

A campaign to persuade the citizens of St.Petersburg to be conscientious and wise during the elections wasn't effective enough. The attendance of the voters was astonishingly low - 29 per cent of those who had the right to participate in the elections. Matviyenko's pre-election headquarters suffered another shock when it was clear that the candidate failed to win the desired 50 per cent plus one vote. Even in that situation Valentina Matviyenko managed to save the face and turned it to her own advantage. She said: "We were allegedly accused of using the administrative resource. But I say that if we were actually using it we would have certainly won the lacking number of votes." She added that the results of the voting revealed the free will of people. There is no doubt that Valentina Matviyenko is a sure favorite before the second round; if nothing extraordinary happens she will be a sure winner of the gubernatorial elections.

There is one more problem that the presidential envoy came across during the elections: the number of people voting against all candidates made up 10.97 per cent. In fact, there would have been more people to vote against all candidates.  As it turned out in conversations with St.Petersburg citizens, almost half of the electorate who voted for Valentina Matviyenko did it because of despair. The decision to vote for this candidate was influenced by the factor that money will come from the federal center to the city when Matviyenko becomes the governor. Time will show if it is true or not that the citizens voted not for Matviyenko's managerial talent but for the hope that this candidate may attract much money to the city being on the gubernatorial position.

The gubernatorial elections have become some kind of preparation for the presidential elections scheduled for 2004. The elections are a mirror reflecting attitude of the people to the political line of President Vladimir Putin. For the time being, even taking into account the particular pride of St.Petersburg citizens, we can state that the limit of trust to President Putin is not exhausted yet. This is important for the president to preserve and increase this confidence of the population. Until recently, numerous faults of the presidential politics were explained with intrigues schemed by politicians surrounding the president. But in this situation, Vladimir Putin is personally responsible for the situation as he openly voiced his support to Presidential Envoy Matviyenko at the gubernatorial elections. 

It is highly likely that the next two weeks won't change the political situation in the city, but Valentina Matviyenko and her team have to take to solution of the city problems already now. The number of problems accumulated within the pre-election race is considerable in St.Petersburg. This is first of all deficit of the city budget that has been already made up but still needs polishing. Second, effective measures are to be taken now to prepare the city for the heating season. If this issue is effectively solved, it will determine the period of Matviyenko's staying on the gubernatorial post.

Let's wait and see the results of the second round of gubernatorial elections which will name the governor but won't show the will of the citizens.

The low attendance of the electorate makes winners of elections look not like actual winners. If we take the elections already held in Russia, we'll see that average attendance of the electorate made up 30-40 per cent. It turns out that 15 or 20 per cent of not really active and reasonable part of the electorate elect heads of the city or regional administrations. This is what has happened at the elections in Omsk, Novgorod and what we observe in St.Petersburg now.

In the first round of the gubernatorial elections Valentina Matviyenko won about 15 per cent of the votes which made up a bit more than 500,000 people. This doesn't mean however that she may win more votes in the second round of the elections. Some of the voters who voted against all candidates in the first round of the elections may vote for Matviyenko's rival, Anna Markova. At the same time, some voters may ignore the second round at all. Thus, Valentina Matviyenko and her rival Anna Markova may lose some share of votes. This absenteeism of the electorate is explained with the fact that majority of them think the result of the voting is pre-determined already. According to opinion polls, only one third of those who come to elections believe that they actually influence the political life of the country. The rest come to election stations just out of habit or because they are pressed to go there. Under these conditions a vast gap is becoming wider between the authority and the society. These are now two different poles separated far from each other which is extremely dangerous for both of them.

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