“Give Power to the People!” – this slogan helped the incumbent governor of the Primorsky (Maritime) territory to win election. Oleg Kozhemyako has promised voters to bring back the direct elections of the mayor and heads of municipalities. In order to demonstrate the seriousness of his intentions he even submitted the relevant bill to the regional Duma. At the first reading it was supported by the deputies.
“The guy said it, and he did it,” residents of the territory seem to have thought, as they supported Kozhemyako's candidacy in the elections of December 2018. Then the New Year holidays predictably came. After them the people's chosen ones were busy with more important things. And then vacation season was right around the corner...
To sum it up, the bill has laid on the shelf for almost a year. They did not recall it often. Believably, people had already checked that promise off their lists. Chances are the bill might stay forgotten for years but suddenly Governor Kozhemyako withdrew it. As a result, the situation has escalated immediately bringing back the unsettled issue on the media scene.
Probably, Kozhemyako decided that his position in the region had been sufficiently strengthened and no reputation risks would be able to ruin it. Next elections are still some way off. And the traditional autumn change of governors has nothing to do with him this year.
“Do you remember how Kozhemyako was elected governor last year? It took him three rounds to win. The elections were fantastically complicated. Ready to do everything to hold this post, the Kremlin's candidate had to go all out -- including his promises to return the election of a mayor to the residents. At the height of the campaign, Kozhemyako submitted a draft law to the regional legislative assembly. In order to convince voters of the seriousness of his intentions, the legislative assembly of the Primorsky territory even voted for the bill in the first reading. But after the elections it turned up in limbo owing to “consultations” of some kind. Just recently, the administration forgot its promise, and without fanfares the bill was revoked. This story may get out in 2021 when the region’s residents massively vote against the candidates “from the authorities.” This will not be the achievement of oppositionists like Alexey Navalny or Ilya Yashin. All thanks for it will go to the regime,” said political scientist Abbas Galyamov.
Is The Election of The Current Mayor Fair?
So why has Kozhemyako made such an unpopular decision? Probably, in order to keep Oleg Gumenyuk, the current mayor of Vladivostok, in the office. After all, this year wasn’t a success for him. The chances that he will be re-elected in the popular vote are very small.
The most important failure was the repairs of city roads. A failure in metaphorical and literal sense of the word at a time. The local drivers and pedestrians got into such huge pits on the streets that they could get out of them only with someone else’s help.
At the beginning of October Yuriy Trutnev, the Far Eastern Federal District envoy, arrived in Vladivostok and lashed out in public against the regional administration for the poor road conditions. The relevant municipal department had no systematic plan for improving street traffic while the city was in the grips of traffic jams. The condition of asphalt road surfaces leaves much to be desired. Public utility services mostly confine their work to patching holes and replacing curbstones. The latter practice has even become the subject of numerous jokes among the residents, who do not see any practical sense in replacing one curbstone with another.
“First of all, Trutnev's discontent was caused by the inefficient use of federal funds and inability to engage the public in changing the image of Vladivostok. People perceive these large-scale works not as a factor improving their city, but as an irritant. To a great extent, blame for this goes to the mayor. Instead of involving people in the process, he has actually turned the whole city against himself. Kozhemyako, the political appointee seems not to cope with his responsibilities. From the moment of his appointment, the residents could hardly name any of his achievements or accomplishments. At the same time, a lot of mistakes have been made both in the public and economic spheres,” says political expert Sergey Grebenyuk.
Another weak point of Gumenyuk is his team. For example, Natalia Sokolova’s comeback to the city administration left many people perplexed. Previously, she had been in charge of land management department at the regional administration and was fired over a fraud scandal by former Governor Miklushevsky. But the current governor of Vladivostok is inviting her back to the post of first deputy with the duties including the management of the municipal property. However, his main fault is not the wrong selection of staff members or economic mistakes but in lack of community outreach. Today even the most conservative leaders understand the importance of PR -- they use social networks, create positive newsbreaks and block negative feedbacks and comments. Certainly, not by themselves but with the help of experts. In this case it is the same thing.
The press service of the Primorsky territory, on the contrary, has been staying almost inactive and formalistic. It didn’t bother itself by exposing any disputable actions of its mayor in a favorable way. Any direct communications with people were also perfunctory. Therefore, Oleg Gumenyuk is unlikely to run for the next term as the popular vote.
Speaking of the people interested in the leadership changes in the region, political consultant Andrey Kudisov says: “It is necessary to distinguish between the two main groups: the first one is interested in changing the mayor and the second one wants to deal a blow to the governor. Of course, there are also those who hope to take part in the “auction” for the mayor's office in Vladivostok. But first of all, behind the pressure on Gumenyuk as one of the weakest points in Kozhemyako's power structure, there are, of course, the old city elite, who got used to “doing things by proxy”. And it is quite possible that what lies on the surface is just an instrument for the elite.
“Today the city is not in its best condition in comparison with Khabarovsk, for example. I believe that all of the above mentioned individuals could add fuel to the fire. Either Nikolaev or transport workers. They benefit from the very process of shifts in politics, when there is a chance to renegotiate new more profitable terms,” said political consultant Daniil Ermilov.
“Gumenyuk has already received a “black spot” from Trutnev. Given the relocation of the envoy's office to Vladivostok this is especially important. If there are no serious changes in the municipal services in the near future, Gumenyuk will soon leave his post. The question of who is going to be a new mayor is still open,” says Kudisov.
Will The Governor Save His Post?
But back to Kozhemyako. Isn’t it a better option for him to sacrifice the current mayor than to depart from his words blatantly putting himself under attack? Apparently not. The governor hasn't yet become so well-connected to afford the loss of one of his key figures. Obviously, the head of the region is still too important a position to allow an unknown person to get it.
However, by securing himself “right here right now”, Kozhemyako will let himself down in the long run. Such an outright disregard for the electorate might not only backfire on the governor himself, but also rock the boat of people’s discontent. According to the latest survey by the Federal Service of State Statistics, the neighboring Khabarovsk territory has made itself known by extremely low confidence in the president. Therefore, the situation in the Far Eastern district will be monitored especially closely by the federal authorities.
Certainly, Oleg Kozhemyako is an experienced politician. Apart from the Primorsky territory, he has been also the head of the Amur and Sakhalin regions and the Koryak Autonomous Area. Kozhemyako knows how to build relations with his senior heavyweights very well. But in this situation he seems to have made a miscalculation.
It is true that he tried to secure himself by shifting the responsibility to the heads of municipalities. After all, the law on direct elections would concern not only the mayor of Vladivostok, but all district leaders as well. And allegedly twenty-six out of thirty-four were against it. But it hardly looks like a convincing argument. After all, it is absolutely unclear why the governor decided to ask them and not the district’s residents.
This decision has cast a shadow on the regional Duma, which had demonstrated its complete lack of independence. The current head of Primorsky territory is unlikely to be forgiven for such discrediting of all levels of local government.