Valentina Matviyenko Teaches Petersburgers a Lesson in “Sovereign Democracy”

World Affairs
August 2, 2011
Vladimir Kara-Murza
The Kremlin’s Know-How: A Secret Election

For all the tricks the Kremlin has perfected over the years to ensure “correct” voting results, what happened last week in St. Petersburg was in a league of its own. The Russian authorities may have invented a new authoritarian know-how: an election organized in secret from candidates and voters.

In June, President Dmitri Medvedev proposed that St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko should become the new speaker of the Federation Council, the Russian Parliament’s upper house. The fact that the president has decided who will lead the legislature surprised no one; such trifles as the separation of powers have long lost any meaning in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The difficulty lay elsewhere: the Federation Council is formed from among municipal and regional legislators—and Matviyenko is neither. To allow the governor to run for a seat, two municipal councils in St. Petersburg—Aleksandrovskaya and Lomonosov (the former imperial residence of Oranienbaum)—hastily called special elections. Vowing to give the governor a run for her money, opponents began preparations for the contest. A wide spectrum of opposition groups—from the radical Another Russia to the liberal Yabloko party—nominated their candidates. Unlike federal elections that feature only government-registered party lists, contests on the local level are still open to individuals and thus allow for opposition participation.

Even with the expected administrative pressure, Matviyenko’s victory was far from assured: the governor, in office since 2003, is widely unpopular in the city for her administration’s incompetence in running basic services, the destruction of historic architecture, the harassment of entrepreneurs, crackdowns on peaceful rallies, and allegations of abuse of power surrounding her family. Experts wondered how Matviyenko—and Putin’s United Russia party, which nominated her—would escape humiliation at the hands of voters.

The solution was simple and brilliant. On July 31, Matviyenko announced that she had been nominated to run for election to the municipal councils of Petrovsky and Krasnenkaya Rechka districts. The deadline for nominations in both jurisdictions had passed on July 27. No one—not even the St. Petersburg City Electoral Commission, not to mention opposition parties—was aware that these elections had been called. The only ones in the know, apart from the authorities, were a handful of puppet candidates who will imitate “competition” to the governor. Despite opposition calls for an investigation, the sham vote, scheduled for August 21, has already been ruled lawful. In a few weeks, Valentina Matviyenko will become speaker of the upper house—nominally, the number-three position in Russia’s state hierarchy.

“No one except your minions and clappers will consider this procedure to be an election,” Boris Vishenvsky, one of Yabloko’s leaders and a former legislator himself, wrote to Matviyenko this week. “It will be considered a political swindle. You will leave St. Petersburg in disgrace and will be remembered as a weak and cowardly governor who was afraid of elections.”

There is at least some good news in all this for the citizens of St. Petersburg. One way or another, they will soon be rid of their unpopular governor.

_____

The St. Petersburg Times
August 3, 2011
Sergey Chernov
Opposition Slams Governor for ‘Secret’ Vote

The opposition has slammed Governor Valentina Matviyenko for running in “secret” elections which City Hall has concealed from the public for more than a month.

City Hall said on Sunday that Matviyenko would run in the elections for municipal deputies in the Krasnenkaya Rechka and Petrovsky districts, making the announcement four days after the registration of the candidates had ended. The elections are due on August 21.

Previously, local opposition leaders and activists said they would run at the same elections as Matviyenko and registered in the municipal district of Lomonosov, where four United Russia and Just Russia deputies had resigned simultaneously in what was seen as an attempt to clear the way for Matviyenko’s election.

A United Russia deputy in the municipal district of Posyolok Alexandrovskaya also resigned, which led to speculation that Matviyenko might also run there.

But, surprisingly, it turned out on Sunday that she would run in two different municipal districts instead, with registration already closed, thus preventing key opponents from standing against her.

In St. Petersburg, a municipal district or okrug is a lower-tier administrative division.

President Dmitry Medvedev offered Matviyenko the job of Chairman of the Federation Council, which became vacant when the former chairman and A Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov was dismissed by Vladimir Putin’s United Russia in June. The new position forces Matviyenko to give up her current position as St. Petersburg Governor.

Despite Medvedev describing her as an “absolutely successful governor,” the media and opposition have claimed that the decision resulted from Matviyenko having fallen out of favor with the Kremlin as a result of her unpopularity among St. Petersburg residents, in turn caused by mismanagement and an unprecedented rise in corruption.

The Kremlin was said to have had doubts about her ability to secure The United Russia’s victory at the State Duma election, due in December.

Matviyenko, however, needs to be an elected deputy to occupy the seat of Chairman of the Federation Council.

The Other Russia political party’s local chair Andrei Dmitriyev, who submitted an application for candidacy in Lomonosov and was in the process of collecting signatures, described the scheme as a “cover-up operation.”

“I can imagine her PR people laughing about how they deceived everybody, but in reality they’ve done a disservice to her,” Dmitriyev said.

“It’s obviously dishonest, it’s illegal, it’s simply ugly. It shows that Matviyenko is afraid of competition and of St. Petersburg residents.

“In reality, it makes it easier for the opposition. We will not compete with one another, but unite our efforts to block Matviyenko from the municipal district and, further, from the Federation Council.”

Yabloko Democratic Party said it does not recognize the elections, which were not properly announced and thus illegal in a statement on Monday, which described them as a “shameful and undignified farce.”

It said that Matviyenko has a “panicked fear” of any democratic procedures and the scheme’s goal was to save her from any political competition at the election.

“It’s an utter shame and disgrace,” said Yabloko’s local chair Maxim Reznik by phone on Monday.

“And this is a person who once was the governor! She simply humiliates herself.”

A Just Russia party’s local chair Oksana Dmitriyeva said in a statement Monday that none of the municipal districts except Alexandrovskaya and Lomonosov had confirmed it would be holding elections over the next few months when replying to the party’s official letter sent to every municipal district.

She said that the St. Petersburg Election Commission was also not informed about the upcoming elections, referring to a written reply from its head Alexander Gnyotov.

Dmitriyeva said her party would sue Matviyenko over the upcoming elections, so that their results would be dismissed as illegitimate.

“This is surrender and shameful defeat from the very start,” she said.

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