Earlier this month, Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov announced that “there’s a possibility that today, despite numerous complex events, the President will find some time to work on some regional issues.”
The next thing Russians knew, two governors and one mayor resigned.
It was Tuesday morning, October 2. The so-called “governors fall” started after several federal subjects elected their governors, parliaments and mayors.
Nobody expected any surprises, but candidates from Putin’s party, United Russia, did not win every election as they usually do.
Anybody but United Russia
On September 9, exactly half of Russia’s 85 regions had their elections. More than a quarter showed protest voting. The communist party, KPRF, won in eight of them, the interventionist party, LDPR, secured three regions and the left-wing Party of Russia’s Rebirth won one.
Four regions — Primorsky Krai and Khabarovsk Krai in the Far East, the Republic of Khakassia in Siberia and Vladimir Oblast near Moscow — had the most unexpected results. Their Kremlin-backed governors were unable to get reelected, as none of them received more than 50 percent of votes.
Contenders from KPRF and LDPR — the so-called “spoiler candidates” — needed only to make the elections look real to win. However, none of them won more than 50 percent of ballots either, which led to a second round of the elections.
“To say the truth, the first round was pretty much enough, the Communist candidate could have won. But they twisted the results in favor of United Russia’s candidate — current governor Viktor Zimin — to make the second round and to rescue the situation,” a person who works for Zimin’s administration and preferred to remain anonymous told The Globe Post.
“Most of the republic’s population hates Zimin. People think he is super corrupted. I think so too,” the person added.
Zimin, a member of United Russia, has been Khakassia’s governor for almost ten years. In 2017, he gave an infamous speech in which he recommended inhabitants of Khakassia — many of whom are too poor to buy food — to make homemade preserves for sale and to collect berries in forests.
After the unsuccessful election, Zimin quit.
“People are furious with pension reform. They haven’t voted for communists but against United Russia,” the person who works for Zimin’s administration said.
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny spent years convincing Russians to vote for anyone but United Russia. Now, it appears his efforts have been vindicated.
Hatred Is Everywhere
Svetlana Orlova governed Vladimir Oblast, another region which refused to reelect their Kremlin-backed governor, for just one term but managed to cultivate perhaps even stronger hatred towards herself than Zimin did.
After she failed to win the elections and before the second round, Orlova recorded a video speech.
“I didn’t expect the first round to happen as it did. And I am very nervous about it. During the last few days I’m constantly asking myself, ‘it seems like I tried and there’re results, but why wasn’t I able to convince so many of you?’” Orlova said.
Her video received more than 800 hateful comments in which locals accused their governor of doing nothing but drinking.
“Guys, go to the polling stations and vote against this carrion,” a user named “Mwawe” wrote.
“Is this alcoholic reading bullshit from a piece of paper a governor?” “obliter1” commented. “Someone help her get sober,” a YouTuber named Petya Lidsky added.
Five days later, Orlova lost the second round to Vladimir Sipyagin from LDPR.
In Khabarovsk Krai, the second round was won by another LDPR member Sergey Furgal.
Kremlin candidate Andrey Tarasenko won the second round in Primorsky Krai by only 1.5 percent. But for the first time in 16 years, the result was canceled due to massive falsifications.
In Khakassia, the second round might be called off as well. The local Election Committee is trying to recall the communist candidate and main opponent Valentin Konovalov’s registration as a candidate by deeming it illegal.
Apparently, Konovalov’s papers were signed by his party secretary although he was required to sign them himself as the head of the local department.
“It is obvious that there could be more protest voting if more depressed and poor federal subjects had elections,” political scientist and associate professor of the Higher School of Economics and Alexander Kynev told The Globe Post. “Candidates who won in these four regions were just technical competitors.”
Kynev points out that people of the Far North, Siberia and the Far East tend to vote more independently.
“Those regions traditionally show strong protest voting,” he said.
Nine governors and several mayors resigned in September and October. But Kynev does not think it was a result of protest voting.
“Governors fall has nothing to do with elections. It was programmed,” the expert explained. “Preparations for the next elections start right after each wave of regional elections. These preparations are always accompanied by massive governors switching. If you analyze previous years, you’ll see that approximately 70 percent of federal subjects’ heads who participated in elections were changed before the campaign.”
Usually, the newcomer effect works. People tend to believe in a miracle — that the new governor will start from scratch, that he or she will be better and smarter than their predecessor.
Nonetheless, the protest voting has huge symbolic meaning.
“This year elections showed that protests make sense, that everyone should go to the polling stations,” Kynev added. “That’s a strong shot into the Kremlin’s strategy which was convincing people that they couldn’t influence anything, that nothing depended on them. Now people realized that it wasn’t true.”