Against the background of the upcoming elections of the governor of Sevastopol, Russia’s federal city in the Crimean Peninsula and a major Black Sea naval base, a juicy scandal has erupted. According to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF,) the United Russia party is deliberately preventing their candidate from being nominated for the governor’s position there with the help of administrative methods.
The statement of this kind was caused by the dissolution of two out of ten district councils in Sevastopol. As a result, Roman Kiyashko, who runs for the CPRF, failed to collect the required number of deputies' signatures. Since he hasn’t passed the municipal filter, he will not be allowed to take part in elections.
What is Municipal Filter?
This concept appeared in 2012, when Russia reverted to direct elections of regional governors. Previously, from 2005 to 2011, governors were appointed by the Russian president.
It means that each candidate must receive the required number of deputies’ signatures from regional Councils in his or her favor. Each elected people's representative can only sign for one person. The number of signatures to be collected is usually 5-10% of the total number of deputies in the State Duma.
It is officially stated that the system was invented to exclude incompetent government officials. However, the response to it was extremely negative. It is commonly known that there are mostly United Russia deputies in the majority of legislative assemblies. Many critics believe that the municipal filter was invented only to prevent candidates who have a real chance of overtaking the ruling party’s representatives from running in the elections.
However, Sevastopol has taken it a step further. Right before collecting the signatures, the court revoked the powers of the councils in Leninsky and Gagarinsky municipal districts, where 60% of the city's residents live. Accordingly, after this decision was taken, there were 27 fewer deputies but the number of required signatures remained the same. A total of 12 signatures still have to be received from eight town councils.
According to the CPRF, it was because of this ruling that their candidate Roman Kiyashko fell short of 4 votes and could not pass the municipal filter. The CPRF members insist that after the dissolution of the councils, the number of signatures for deputies should also be proportionally reduced. They are going to bring a lawsuit to court and to boycott the impending election in Sevastopol.
Grigory Buylov, the former press secretary of former Sevastopol Governor Dmitry Ovsyannikov, told wek.ru that “taking into account the lack of competitiveness in the elections of governors in general, the dissolution of the two municipal councils looks like uncertainty that even a predetermined result might be achieved.
“If it is a strong solution offered by political experts, well, then it is for a beginner politician. Otherwise, it is a standard set of actions without any bright and out-of-the-box steps which is somewhat surprisingly based on the result of work of the predecessor. Off-the-shelf and ready-to-use programs and projects related to Moscow’s urban beautification and cooperation with its authorities are more or less effectively implemented. If some extra efforts are required, momentum starts to be lost. The bombastic speeches made previously are forgotten as if they were never made at all. Promises such as creating of a state construction company or producing a plan for development of the Sevastopol sea port terminal are not accomplished. The city administration doesn’t get the core documents for strategic planning – an updated development strategy and a comprehensive plan. Meanwhile, the projects of crucial importance in terms of the city’s development are turned down. For example, the bridge to the North side, the full-scale 8th stage of the Tavrida highway and the draft of the National Program for Urban Development. However, the first envelope unsealed a long time ago (putting blame on the predecessors for mistakes and miscalculations – ed. by wek.ru) continues to be used at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, a year has passed. Chances are some interesting details will begin to appear, and it will be very difficult to pass the buck to anyone then.”
Vladislav Morozov, a political technologist, told wek.ru in a comment on the situation: “The legitimacy of this election is currently raising doubts. The fact that Roman Kiyashko, the CPRF candidate, who won the second place in the previous governor election, wasn't allowed to join the race again, casts doubts over the legitimacy of the campaign both from the point of view of a big number of voters who actually lost their candidate, and from the point of view of the law. The whole story of dissolution of the two district councils is highly questionable. If the number of deputies has decreased, why hasn't the number of signatures required to pass the municipal filter reduced? If the campaign is conducted in this way, the victory of an electoral winner will not look legitimate in any case. No matter what percentage of votes he or she would gain in the result.”
Rejection or Over-Cautiousness?
Mikhail Razvozhayev is running for governor as the United Russia candidate. He has no relation to the region, but he has been its acting governor since July 11, 2019, when Dmitry Ovsyannikov, the former governor, was fired.
According to the survey, 84% of Sevastopol’s residents have appreciated Razvozhayev's work as the acting governor. A total of 109,000 people took part in this research, so this sampling is representative. But the fact that the survey was conducted by members of the regional branch of the All-Russia People's Front raises questions. It should be said that Mikhail Razvozhayev is the head of the executive committee of the All-Russia People's Front and a member of its central staff.
However, many experts believe that even if these figures are overestimated, Razvozhayev is still the only real candidate to win the elections and Roman Kiyashko could hardly compete with him. Then why make a scandal around the elections and obviously deliberately dissolve the councils of the two largest districts of Sevastopol? In doing so, there is a risk of pitching the people against the initiators and turning the democratic procedure into a sham.
Political analyst Mikhail Mezyukho says that this multimove game aims at discrediting the Communist Party in the region. “The CPRF will not be able to boycott the elections in Sevastopol,” he told the Regional Comments newspaper. The party is likely to just embarrass themselves once again. Their campaigning against the amendments to the Constitution has already resulted in the loss of a part of its electorate. With his ill-considered activity Roman Kiyashko, the CPRF candidate, has somewhat marginalized his party in Sevastopol.”
Mezyukho believes that the CPRF representative would never receive the required number of votes. Notably, Kiyashko was refused even by his fellow party member, who signed up for another candidate. And now, the CPRF members are just trying to put a brave face on the defeat as if it wasn't them who didn't pass the elections, since they simply didn't get a chance to participate. However, it is unlikely that they will be able to organize a protests as large as the one that took place in Khabarovsk recently.”
Sergei Smirnov, a political technologist and CEO of the Prikladnaya Politologiya Foundation voiced an opinion along the same lines. According to him, the CPRF had enough time to get ready for this scenario. Firstly, during the eight years of existence of the municipal filter there was an opportunity to bring the necessary number of its deputies to the regional Council. Secondly, the information about the dissolution of two regional councils became publicly available in early June. So, there was enough time for counter-moves.
Commenting on whether Razvozhayev is likely to win or lose, Builov told wek.ru: “If his political strategists “suppress the turnout,” opponents do not take effective measures to mobilize their electorate and conduct propaganda and counterpropaganda, and the voting lasts three days using mobile polling stations, the chances are high. In fact, the campaign is unfolding in a hothouse environment. So, the opponents have no resources and no desire to initiate a serious fight and to shape an alternative agenda. If the situation remains stable without any unforeseen difficulties, in which the inefficiency of the authorities might become obvious, as, for example, in payments for meals at schools and kindergartens during the lockdown, winning the election by a candidate representing the party of power will not be even a matter of technologies, but just mere formality.”
Commenting on the situation in the region as a whole, the expert said: “As they say, don't count your chickens before they're hatched. Only the results of the year will show how efficiently the work on programs, projects and subjects was organized in Sevastopol as regards of the Federal Target Program or other state programs. However, a miracle might not happen. But as long as it is possible to keep loyalty to the mass media of run by [Alexei] Chaly, even disappointing results are unlikely to affect the social well-being of the majority of local people. Although if orphans or displaced children from the dilapidated and emergency housing stock are left without apartments guaranteed by the Russian legislation, one can only feel sorry for them.
“As for the situation around the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems to me that city dwellers have more questions about what it actually was rather than they have trust in efficiency of the measures taken or the protection provided to people. The residents were intimidated, prohibited to go to the sea and the forest for berries and mushrooms. There were numerous roadblocks at the entrances to the city. However, large pockets of infection appeared in places of mass residency of non-resident construction workers because they had to continue working. Private companies have suffered losses due to restrictions on their business routine. But if we get a look at the reports, the number of cases remains almost the same as before lifting the restrictions. So, the situation seems controversial, and only doctors and epidemiologists with a great experience can probably draw some reasonable conclusions.
“The same true is of the water supply. Chances are Sevastopol will not face a water shortage. According to the recollections of long-term residents, previously, there was a much smaller volume of water in the Baidar reservoir, the main source of freshwater there. In those days, water was even delivered to residents of the nearest small villages by water tanks. So far, the situation has been much better. Although the water supply to residential buildings in some districts is stopped at night, I hope that the city will survive without any accidents this summer. However, I would prefer to see that experts have more proactive position in terms of measures taken against losses in water supply pipe networks and illegal cut-in sections and during the search for real options for alternative sources of water supply to densely populated areas and villages likewise.”
In addition to Mikhail Razvozhayev, Ilya Zhuravlev, a member of the LDPR party, Ivan Yermakov from the Patriots of Russia and Alexander Romanovich from A Just Russia have also been registered as candidates for the Governor of Sevastopol. The election will be held on the Unified Election Day on September 13.