In a development which can surprise nobody, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has gone down to crushing defeat in the Sochi mayoral election; his opponent, supported by Vladimir Putin, won three quarters of the vote while Nemtsov took just over a tenth. Though billed as a pulse-pounding exercise in pluralism, 60% of Sochi residents chose to stay at home on election day. Despite massive controversy over corruption and abuse of power in preparing for the 2014 Olympics, the Kremlin’s candidate won 77% of the vote and the vast majorit of the candidates were struck from the ballot long before election day. This is “democracy” as Putin’s KGB understands it.
Once again, Putin’s Russia has made an utter mockery of the very concept of the election, showing that Russia is a barbaric state on a par with the banana republics of Africa. The always brilliant Robert Coalson has detailed the naked fraud by which Nemtsov was victimized throughout the campaign:
The mayoral election in Sochi – which President Dmitry Medvedev has hailed as a sign of healthy democracy in Russia – is coming down to the wire, with official voting scheduled for April 26 (although local officials already have the tried-and-true “early voting” scam working at full speed).
People interested in following this important election could do a lot worse than reading the blog of Ilya Yashin, a Yabloko youth activist who is running former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov’s campaign. Yashin’s blog is a fascinating catalogue of dirty tricks and illegal tactics used against Nemtsov. Among other things, the blog documents with photos and video how state-sector workers and soldiers are being bused in by the regional administration to vote early (and often?).
It also has in its entirety a 20-minute piece of black PR against Nemtsov that was run by all four local television channels on April 17 (the same local channels that have officially declined to participate in the campaign or to present free airtime to candidates). The piece, which features Kremlin-connected political consultant Gleb Pavlovsky and hatchet-man journalist Sergei Dorenko, trashes Nemtsov’s record as governor of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast in the 1990s and his tenure as deputy prime minister under Boris Yeltsin. It also lingers long on Nemtsov’s support for Ukraine’s Orange Revolution and his opposition political activity with “failures” such as Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov. One of the most brilliant strokes is how it blames Nemtsov for the failure of his old party, the now-defunct Union of Rightist Forces, to get into the Duma during the last elections. The party, it will be recalled, was the victim of a massive Kremlin-directed campaign of harassment and intimidation and the Duma election itself was little more than a rigged farce. But now Nemtsov’s failure to win that rigged vote can be used as evidence that he is a failure!
The film ends with a black screen and the ominous words: “Do you need a mayor like this?”
On April 16, Yashin posted about how the local administration had prepared a “hidden-camera” report featuring a man who claimed to be working for the Nemtsov campaign making all sorts of allegations against Nemtsov (“a playboy with a naked torso”) and the campaign.
Perhaps Yashin’s most interesting post appeared on April 7, in which he describes a meeting that he and Nemtsov held with Krasnodar Krai Deputy Governor Murat Akhedzhak. Akhedzhak is the official “director” of the election and has come to be called “the local Surkov,” in reference to deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin’s don in charge of domestic politics.
The meeting took place at Akhedzhak’s insistence on the day the local election commission was to decide whether to register Nemtsov for the race. Akhedzhak reportedly told Nemtsov that they had to meet before noon that day because the commission was awaiting his instruction on what to do about Nemtsov’s application.
Akhedzhak asked Nemtsov to refrain during the campaign from attacking Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, which Nemtsov refused to do. Akhedzhak said that an survey had found about 40 percent of voters will vote for acting Mayor and Unified Russia candidate Anatoly Pakhomov, while Nemtsov was in second place with about 17 percent. (The complete results of the poll are on Yashin’s blog.) Akhedzhak told Nemtsov that he has been tasked with ensuring a first-round victory for Pakhomov with about 54 percent of the vote (remember that figure!).
According to Yashin, Nemtsov then asked directly whether the authorities will falsify the election results, and Akhedzhak answered that the chances of falsification are only about “10 to 15 percent.” Instead, he reportedly said, “we have every ability to destroy you on television” (see above!). Akhedzhak denied that he was responsible for an incident in which someone threw ammonia into Nemtsov’s face (“That was Surkov’s kids,” he said.) or another in which a Russian businessman in New York illegally transferred money into Nemtsov’s campaign account (“Moscow thought that up and the FSB took care of it.”).
They say Medvedev is a big fan of the Internet, even has his own Livejournal blog. Maybe he’ll take a look at what Yashin is writing and the photographs he is posting. I know we’ll be reading it eagerly between now and the time the Sochi drama is played out.
The Moscow Times has more, detailing how Nemtsov was purged from the airwaves in Sochi by the Kremlin’s puppet:
Acting Sochi Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov not only dominates local media coverage ahead of Sunday’s mayoral election, but rival candidates say he also has a complete monopoly.
Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, Communist Yury Dzagania and ousted billionaire candidate Alexander Lebedev have all sued Pakhomov for purported abuse of office during the election campaign. They complain that his meetings with Sochi residents are shown daily on television, his activities fill local newspapers and he spoke as a mayoral candidate during a recent interview with Russia Today television that apparently was filmed in his office in violation of election law.
“He has used his office to campaign,” said Alexander Glushenkov, a lawyer representing Nemtsov at a court hearing of his complaint this week.
Pakhomov’s lawyer Oleg Naukin denied any wrongdoing in court, saying the mayor had used a public reception office decorated to look like his office in the Russia Today interview.
When asked by Glushenkov to provide the address of the public reception office, Pakhomov’s lawyer said there were 28 such offices organized by Pakhomov’s campaign around the city, and he did not know which one had been used for the interview.
Asked why Russia Today editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan, who conducted the interview, made on-camera comments afterward in the lobby of the City Hall building, Naukin advised to put the question to Russia Today.
A spokesman for Russia Today, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, told The Moscow Times on Thursday that the meeting between Pakhomov and Simonyan was “private” and “had nothing to do with the election campaign.”
Sochi news outlets regularly refer to Pakhomov — a former Anapa mayor who was recruited to the post by Krasnodar Governor Alexander Tkachyov — as “citizen Pakhomov” or “Anatoly Pakhomov, candidate from the United Russia party.” Local newspapers like the Novosti Sochi daily, which is backed by City Hall, make little attempt to conceal their support for Pakhomov. A front-page article in last Saturday’s issue was dedicated to a meeting between Pakhomov and voters in Sochi’s Khosta district. “He has a concrete, economically viable plan on most of the issues that require a solution,” the article said. A small note at the bottom of the article said, “We inform you that other candidates did not provide information about their campaign activities.”
Rival candidates said media outlets bluntly refuse to publish their campaign ads or other information about their activities. “This is Sochi’s dirtiest election ever,” Dzagania, the Communist candidate, told The Moscow Times. Dzagania, a Sochi native, ran for mayor in the previous election as well. A total of six candidates are running for mayor; the winner will get a say in how billions of dollars of government money are spent in preparing Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
It is impossible to campaign, Dzagania said, showing one of the few newspapers that have printed his campaign ad, the Communist Pravda. A special Sochi edition of the newspaper dated April 2009 invites people to “choose a protector of the people, not an invading predator” and quotes Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov as saying “Dzagania will bring the Sochi resort back to its former glory.”
Sochi residents widely resent what they call the “Kubanization” of the greater Sochi region, which had the special status of being a resort that was financed directly by Moscow until Tkachev became governor in 2000.
Nemtsov, another Sochi native, is also trying to capitalize on residents’ pride for their city. “Let’s give Sochi its federal status back!” scream Nemtsov’s flyers. “I am running for mayor to protect Sochi residents against the impunity of shameless Kuban bureaucrats.”
Kuban, a name taken from the Kuban River, is widely used to refer to the entire Krasnodar region, which is perceived as different in culture and tradition from Sochi’s Black Sea coast and the Caucasus Mountains.
Another article titled “Pure Truth About Impure Campaigns” in the same issue of Novosti Sochi contains a long interview with Oleg Rubezhansky, a Sochi native who claims to have helped Nemtsov in the early stages of his campaign. “Sochi residents are being fooled,” he said in the interview, which takes up all of page 4. “He is not an independent figure, he is following orders. … There were not thousands of Sochi residents who invited Nemtsov to Sochi, it was me alone.”
Nemtsov told The Moscow Times that Rubezhansky was a “provocateur” who had asked for a bribe of $50,000 for his services in Sochi. “He did not work for me,” Nemtsov said.
Rubezhansky could not be located for comment.
Novosti Sochi editor-in-chief Alexander Shapovalov declined to take repeated calls made to his work phone Thursday.
Although Pakhomov gets generous coverage on the local news, he proved difficult to locate for an interview. A City Hall spokesman said Thursday that the city administration couldn’t comment on the election campaign and referred questions to Pakhomov’s campaign headquarters, which is run by United Russia. The spokesman, who refused to provide his name, saying he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media, said he didn’t have contact information for the headquarters.
A representative for the local United Russia office, Alexander Agvyanov, said he could not comment on the campaign and referred a reporter to City Hall.
One of the things that irks Nemtsov’s campaign team the most is a 20-minute film shown on four local television channels — NTK, Kuban’s Channel Two, Efkate and Maks-TV. The film, broadcast last Friday, called Nemtsov an opportunist who was recruited by former Kremlin power broker Boris Berezovsky to the government after ruining the economy of the Nizhny Novgorod region, where he was once governor.
Two people interviewed in the film are former Kremlin spin doctor Gleb Pavlovsky and scandalous journalist Sergei Dorenko. “Midas turned everything he touched into gold, but everything touched by Nemtsov turned to [expletive],” Dorenko said at the conclusion of the film.
The film has no opening or closing credits and provides no indication of who made or ordered it.
During election campaigns, news outlets usually give the local election committee a price list for running candidates’ campaign ads. During the Sochi campaign, only two radio stations and one cable television channel declared their prices for paid campaign ads. When Dzagania approached one radio station, Avtoradio, with a campaign recording, he was refused. “They told me they wouldn’t run the recording, saying that they were no longer working with any candidates and that they had withdrawn their price list from the election committee,” Dzagania said.
Candidates said Efkate television has made it difficult for them to run the 3-minute clips of free airtime granted to candidates by law. The law applies to channels partly owned by City Hall, and Efkate is the only such channel in Sochi. Efkate has required that the clips be recorded on special digital-camera cassettes instead of regular DVDs. To record in the right format, Dzagania approached the Sochi studios of Channel Two that provide such services on a commercial basis and paid to have his clip copied. But he never received the recording. “Referring to an internal memo, the channel’s commercial director told me that they were not working with any candidates after April 6,” Dzagania said, adding that he later got the clip copied elsewhere.
A spokeswoman for Channel Two said the channel never gives comments to the press.
Efkate director Oleg Burunin did not return a request for comment Thursday.
Attempts to obtain a comment from the other two channels were also unsuccessful. Maks-TV news editor Natalya Boiko said she had “no time” to comment Thursday, and repeated calls to NTK went unanswered.
Election officials have described the campaign as fair, and the courts have found no violations by Pakhomov.
Yevgeny Rashchepkin, a member of Dzagania’s campaign, criticized the campaign as unfair, particularly the television coverage.
“Only one candidate is getting airtime right now, and it is being done through news programs rather than through the way outlined by election law,” Rashchepkin said. “He is provided airtime 24 hours a day.”
On Tuesday night, Pakhomov was featured in the audience attending a “Comedy Club” performance in Sochi. Comedian Mikhail Galustyan introduced Pakhomov from the stage as “the man who does so much for Sochi.” After the show, Pakhomov was shown meeting comedians backstage and throwing out an idea to create a “center of laughter” in the city. Nemtsov, who said he was sitting in the audience that night as well, was not shown in the report.