It is fairly common to hear public complaints that fraud is boosting pro-Kremlin candidates in Russian elections. But it is exceedingly rare to see Moscow authorities lend solid support to such complaints. That’s just what occurred in the far eastern province of Primorsky Krai, or Primorye, last week, after a “miraculous” last-minute voting surge in favor of the Kremlin-backed incumbent governor, Andrei Tarasenko, handed him a narrow victory over his Communist opponent, Andrei Ishchenko. The Communists, who say this sort of thing happens to them all the time in distant regions, took their usual course of staging some street protests and filing a lawsuit in the local court. Even they were surprised when the Central Electoral Commission in Moscow declared that the election was marred by violations and the results must be annulled. It’s the first time in post-Soviet history that a local election has been overturned.
There will be no earthquake if, when the election is replayed in three months as the law requires, the governorship of the relatively quiet Pacific coast territory should pass from the ruling party, United Russia, to the loyal opposition Communist Party.
“It’s definitely a positive sign. I think Putin understands that Russia needs more political competition.” says Dmitry Babich, a columnist with the state-run Sputnik news agency. “Getting rid of the most obvious violations, like what happened in Primorye, is a necessary first step.”