Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Darkin Wins, June 2001

When I was first assigned to Vladivostok as Acting Consul General in 2001, I followed the gubernatorial elections closely, and made the acquaintance of many of the candidates, including the eventual winner, Sergey Darkin.  I liked Sergey Mikhailovich, and his wife, the actress Larisa Bogoraz, and was pleased when Darkin won the gubernatorial election, despite the rather crude efforts of Putin supporters to put in their own man, Gennadiy Apanasenko.  Although a political neophyte who was subsequently burdened by accusations of corruption, Darkin made his peace with Moscow and remained Governor for the next 11 years.  He was replaced by Medvedev yesterday, presumably because he could not get out the vote in the recent Duma elections. 

What follows is one of the many E-Grams I wrote in Vladivostok tracking the Primorye gubernatorial election and Darkin's rising political fortunes.  I am told that Colin Powell read the report and liked it, as it was representative of one of the Department's earlier attempts to move beyond the cable format and put a little more modernity into political reporting.  The E-Gram depicts Darkin in his heyday, when hopes were high and his image was relatively untarnished.  How times change.

                                    U.S. Consulate General, Vladivostok
                                     Primorye Election Update: Monday June 18, 2001


1.  Darkin Wins the Governorship…..

Darkin's Signature Campaign Poster

With Primorye’s skies appropriately overcast and gloomy, and Vladivostok encased in fog, voters went to the polls in record low numbers on Sunday to elect the next Governor of Primorye.  By midnight, it was clear that “Roliz” Chairman Sergey Darkin had emerged victorious over his main opponent “Kandidat Protiv Vsekh” (Candidate “Against All”).  With 95% of the vote in, Darkin had approximately 40% of the vote, “Against All” had 33.5%, and the unfortunate Deputy PolPred Gennadiy Apanasenko trailed the field with 24%.  Turnout was significantly lower than in the first round, but at 31% was sufficient to pass the 25% barrier.  Therefore, the elections can be said to “have taken place,” as local officials here are wont to say.  Turnout was lighter in Vladivostok and Nakhodka and heavier in Nazdratenko strongholds in the northern part of Primorye.  In Vladivostok, 56% voted “Against All”, while in Nazdratenko’s hometown of Dalnegorsk over 60% voted for Darkin.  Close to that number also voted for Darkin in his own hometown of Bolshoy Kamen.  The official results will likely not be known until Thursday.  The inauguration ceremony will be set for sometime within the next two weeks, once the final results are certified.  In a post-mortem on Apanasenko’s benighted campaign on TV6’s “Itogi,” Merkator analyst Anatoliy Oreshkin judged Apanasenko’s efforts doomed from the start by PolPred Pulikovskiy’s “primitive methods.”  No one understood, he said, that the support of the Center would be a liability in Primorye, not an asset.  We would note that in the end, all that was left to Apanasenko and his supporters was a last-minute attempt to invalidate the elections by illegally striking Cherepkov from the ballot, in the hope that Primoryans would react strongly and “Against All” would beat Darkin. Primoryans did indeed react strongly, but the slick Darkin campaign, and Nazdratenko’s firm support, was enough to get Sergey Darkin safely past the post.

2.      …..But More Court Cases Await

According to Regional Election Commission Head Sergey Knyazev, there were no significant violations of the election law on election day (although a bomb did go off next to a Tax Inspectorate Office, which happened to be near one of Primorye’s 1600 voting points).  However, several court cases are being prepared.  Primorye Duma Deputy Vladimir Gilgenberg’s complaint (E-Gram 45) will be heard by the Primorye Regional Court on June 19.  Central Election Commission Chief Veshnyakov has told reporters that even if Cherepkov wins his case, the result of the election will not change.  In view of Primorye’s turbulent electoral history, however, we will wait and see on that one.  Deputy PolPred Apanasenko expressed his disgust with Primorye’s “dirty election” in an interview with the press on Sunday, but said he would not contest the results (however, his staff indicates differently).  In a classic case of projection, Apanasenko also expressed doubt that Sergey Darkin was up to the job of Governor of Primorye.  Darkin commented that the voters seemed to think otherwise, and left it at that.  Candidate “Against All” has given no interviews as of yet.  Finally, the latest hot rumor is that ex-Candidate Valentin Dubinin will be returning from vacation today, and will be taking over as acting Governor from Konstantin Tolstoshein.  If that indeed does happen, it would be a fitting tribute to this, the most unusual election campaign in the history of the Russian Far East. 

The Primorye Electoral Map

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