Anatomy of a “Landslide” (Saint Petersburg Municipal District By-Elections)

Editor’s Note. We have it on good authority from a reliable source that the approval rating of Valentina Matviyenko and her administration stood at a whopping 7 (seven) percent before her miraculous landslide victory in the so-called municipal district by-elections held this past weekend in Saint Petersburg. We are almost certain this explains the sick farce described below.

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Opposition Slams Election Landslide
By Alexandra Odynova
The St. Petersburg Times
August 24, 2011

The opposition has denounced as a farce the municipal by-elections won by former-Governor Valentina Matviyenko at the weekend.

United Russia was triumphant over the results, calling them “record-breaking” and “overwhelming,” but the opposition, which had criticized the elections for not being announced in advance as required by the law, refused to recognize them.

Matviyenko, who ran in two St. Petersburg municipal districts, was announced to have won 97.92 percent of votes in the Krasnenkaya Rechka district and 95.61 in the Petrovsky district. She accepted the seat in Krasnenkaya Rechka. Sergei Mironov, leader of the Just Russia party, who occupied the speaker’s seat in the Federation Council that Matviyenko is expected to take but was ousted by United Russia in May, described the elections as “a farce and a shame.”

“They got those kinds of percentages only in the Soviet Union,” he said.

Matviyenko was confronted by a journalist at a press conference Tuesday who described her results as “Turkmen or North Caucasian.” The former governor retorted: “Sympathy one receives for nothing, envy must be earned,” quoting the aphorism by German television presenter Robert Lembke.

The two St. Petersburg districts rolled out bread and circuses to lure voters to polling stations Sunday. Any other time, municipal by-elections would go unnoticed, but votes in the tiny districts of Petrovsky and Krasnenkaya Rechka were too crucial a step for Matviyenko, who needed to become a legislator to be eligible for the speaker’s seat in the Federation Council.

Estimates by election officials showed that turnout was 36 percent in the Petrovsky district and more than 28 percent in the Krasnenkaya Rechka district — astonishingly high levels for a by-election.

The elections followed a campaign filled with scandal and tarnished by the abundant use of “administrative resources,” which were required to help the Kremlin replace the unpopular governor ahead of State Duma elections while filling a Federation Council speaker’s seat with a loyal politician.

Clowns offered free ice cream on Sunday, and acrobats performed tricks outside the polling stations, while inside, stalls were stocked to the ceiling with cheap buns, Interfax reported.

Health-conscious voters could get medical examinations right on the premises, including from the chief pediatrician of the city government’s health care committee, Lev Erman, the report said.

Pets were not forgotten either, with owners given the chance for free checkups for dogs and cats at some polling stations.

Also on offer were free tickets to the circus, an oldies pop concert and a football workshop with Yury Zheludkov, a Zenit St. Petersburg star of the 1980s, Fontanka.ru news site reported.

The campaign kicked off in June, when President Dmitry Medvedev proposed to make Matviyenko, 62 and St. Petersburg’s governor since 2003, the new speaker of the Federation Council.

The federal government was also interested in replacing Matviyenko, who never quite gelled with Petersburgers, before the Duma elections, analysts said.

An elected legislator of any level can be made senator, but Matiyenko’s road to the seat turned out more thorny than the Kremlin probably expected, not least because of A Just Russia, which promised to battle her on the ballot.

To prevent oppositional candidates from challenging her in the elections, Matviyenko kept silent on which constituency she would run in. The news became public only after registration for the vote was closed.

The opposition cried foul, saying district officials had refused to disclose information on upcoming elections, despite being obliged to do so by law, while the districts’ newspapers announcing the elections were printed after registration was closed, but their lawsuits were thrown out.

In the end, Matviyenko faced no competition to speak of. Most rivals were complete unknowns. Among her competitors were three United Russia members, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, a Peterburgteploenergo official, a cloakroom attendant, a railroad maintenance worker and two ex-members of A Just Russia whom the party denounced as renegades.

Some 8,000 voters are registered in Petrovsky, and another 13,000 in Krasnenkaya Rechka. Three mandates were up for grabs in each district.

The opposition tried to convince locals to vote against all candidates by marking all of their names, thus making their ballots invalid, or to vote for any candidate except Matviyenko and those from United Russia.

But authorities did their best to prevent this, briefly arresting liberal politician Boris Nemtsov and former Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev over the calls and seizing 145,000 copies of A Just Russia’s newspaper that contained materials urging voters to vote against Matviyenko.

Later, the police spokesman said that Mashkovtsev was “giving away money in exchange for voting against all the candidates.” Mashkovtsev denied the accusation.

The elections have no minimum turnout requirement, but local authorities wanted a high enough turnout to secure the legitimacy of Matviyenko’s legislature bid, Fontanka.ru reported earlier this month. The report was soon deleted, allegedly over legal concerns, and its author, Alexandra Garmazhapova, resigned from the news site.

The report also provided a detailed list of entertainment events planned by local officials and entrepreneurs to keep voters in the city on Sunday — a description that was uncannily similar to what actually happened. No information was available on how much it cost to stage the events.

Reports on violations were, meanwhile, easy to come by. Gazeta.ru reported, for example, that in violation of the law its reporter was denied access to the vote records at a polling station in Petrovsky.

Observers with the unregistered Party of People’s Freedom (Parnas) spotted one voter — out of a large group who looked like plainclothes military cadets — cast three ballots wrapped in one, while at another station, opposition monitors were barred when trying to count the turnout, said Ilya Yashin, an activist with Parnas and the Solidarity movement.

He called the elections “a special operation” implemented with “unprecedented administrative resources.”

“I haven’t witnessed anything like this even during presidential elections,” Yashin told The St. Petersburg Times after visiting several polling stations.

“A few voters complained that the authorities only do something good for voters when they want something in return,” Yashin said.

The local elections committee said there were no “significant” violations, Interfax reported.

Additional reporting by Sergey Chernov.

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Load up on guns and bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word

Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello, how low?
Hello, hello, hello

With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us

A mulatto, an albino
A mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey, yay

I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little tribe has always been
And always will until the end…

— Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

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Filed under political repression, Russian society

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