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LibDems crush ruling party rivals in Russian Far East & central regions’ governor elections

LibDems crush ruling party rivals in Russian Far East & central regions’ governor elections
The populist nationalist Liberal Democratic Party candidate has won over two thirds of the vote in the run-off governor polls in Russia’s Khabarovsk Region, while another LDPR candidate took Vladimir Region with a 20-point lead.

The Russian State Duma MP and the LDPR candidate, Sergey Furgal, has gained almost 70 percent of votes in Khabarovsk Region, the Russian Central Elections Committee confirmed. His competitor, the incumbent governor Vyacheslav Shport, who represented the ruling United Russia party, managed to receive the backing of less than 28 percent of the voters. In the first round, Furgal and Shport received roughly the same number of votes – 35.43 and 35.62 percent respectively, with a 36.09 percent voter turnout. In the run-off elections, the turnout was even higher and amounted to 43 percent.

The two candidates already fought for the gubernatorial seat in Khabarovsk Region back in 2013 but at that time Shport won. The Russian Central Elections Committee said there were no major violations that could possibly lead to the cancellation of election results. The results of another regional vote, in the neighboring Primorsky Region, were earlier annulled due to numerous violations reported by both candidates after last Sunday’s runoff.

The Khabarovsk elections, however, also failed to pass without controversies. Ahead of the vote, a video emerged, which showed Shport offering Furgal a place in the regional government if he dropped out of the race. The LDPR candidate replied that he would take the offer if he loses but added that he would not voluntarily exit the race. The LDPR leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, then said that his party is not negotiating any deals with other candidates concerning future appointments in the regional administration. He also said that LDPR would not give up the fight for the gubernatorial seat in Khabarovsk Region.

In addition to securing Khabarovsk, the Liberal Democrats also managed to oust the incumbent governor of Vladimir Region, Svetlana Orlova, out of office. During the second round of voting there, Vladimir Sipyagin beat his United Russia competitor by gaining 57 percent, as against 37 percent of the vote. According to the Central Elections Committee, more than 38 percent of the region’s voters cast their ballots on Sunday.

The winner of the vote called his election a “good and confident result,” noting that he had no doubts that “this would happen.” Speaking to Sputnik, Sipyagin noted that he had already begun to form his team even before the run-off vote took place.

United Russia’s weekend defeat could have been even more impressive as another Russian region – the republic of Khakassia in South Siberia – was expected to hold a runoff gubernatorial elections on Sunday. However, on Friday last week incumbent governor Viktor Zimin, who also represents United Russia and who had headed the region for 10 years already, removed his candidacy from the polls. Zimin said a health condition was the reason for the move, despite the fact that during the campaign debates he denied any problems and even promised to bring a kettlebell to televised debates to prove that he was in prime condition. Several Russian media outlets quoted unnamed sources as saying that Zimin’s withdrawal was ordered from United Russia’s headquarters, to avoid another defeat from the opposition.

The runoff was rescheduled for October 6 and it will be held between Communist Party candidate Valentin Konovalov who has also secured support from the local branch of the LDPR party and Andrey Filyagin of the center-left parliamentary opposition party Fair Russia.

In 2004, gubernatorial elections in Russia were replaced with direct presidential appointments in a bid to fight corruption among regional officials and also to ensure more political stability. In 2012, the voting was returned in most regions in order to stimulate democracy and development of the political system, but centrist United Russia retained the leading positions almost everywhere as voters favored stability and social guarantees that it provided.

Analysts blame “protest voting” caused by unpopular moves

Several political analysts, like the head of the Independent Agency for Regional Research Yevganiy Polkovnikov, have said the current setback for United Russia is a result of particularities of the political process – a close tie in the first round forces incumbent officials to assume a protective stance and admit certain mistakes, which makes them look weaker and increases “protest voting” during runoffs.

Others, like the ousted governor Shport, blamed the lack of people’s support on unpopular but necessary measures that regional governors and legislatures had to undertake over the past few years. Probably the most well-known and the most recent of such steps is the raising of the retirement age throughout, almost unanimously backed by United Russia’s majority in the federal parliament.

We have never sought momentary populism, but acted in the interests of the future,” Shport said in a video address released after the runoff.

Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov commented on the results of the Khabarovsk and Vladimir gubernatorial polls, saying that the president would have “dense, constructive and working” relations with all regional leaders regardless of their party affiliation.

The president is communicating with them and it cannot be any other way, because partisanship is unlikely to play any role when governors have to really start working and keep their campaign promises, even more so for their active participation in the realization of the general strategy that is being set by the president of Russia,” Peskov told reporters.

It should be noted that the voters’ preferences have apparently not changed where it concerned legislative power bodies. In elections to local parliaments, held in early September, United Russia won in all 16 regions where they were held and secured about 60 percent of all seats.

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