Dmitry Fetisov: ‘It was dry and insipid elections, there was no political fight’

The political expert on the 2020 governor elections: in general without surprises, while the Kremlin’s influence was seen only in Irkutsk

Dmitry Fetisov: ‘It was dry and insipid elections, there was no political fight’
Photo: pnp.ru

Elections of governors in 20 Russian regions didn’t have surprises. All winners are current governors and heads of regions, including the president of Tatarstan. Residents of regions voted for 18 candidates, local parliaments approved of another two. In an interview with Realnoe Vremya, Russian political expert Dmitry Fetisov explains why no Russian region had sensations.

“The second round was possible in Irkutsk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts

Mr Fetisov, is there nothing to be surprised by in these elections or is it a surprise that there was no second round whose probability you didn’t exclude in our talk a few months ago?

Generally speaking, we have nothing to be surprised by. What am I talking about? When the possibility of three-day voting was legalised, it became clear that there shouldn’t any sensations for authorities in the elections of regional leaders: the second round was possible in Irkutsk and Arkhangelsk Oblasts, but the intrigue began to dissipate three days to the voting day. It was seen that the Kremlin worked with the main opponents to the authorities’ candidates “on the scene”. First of all, it “worked” well in Irkutsk Oblast with CPRF’s candidate Mikhail Shchapov, the president’s administration paid a lot of attention to the region, so the second round didn’t take place there.

We can be surprised only by the winners’ high numbers in most regions — only Sevastopol and Kamchatka stand out in a crowd because the governors of these territories Razvozhayeva (Sevastopol) and Solodov (Kamchatka Krai) indeed have high credibility among the citizens. The numbers are give or take logical in Smolensk Oblast (Editor’s Note: Governor Ostrovsky won with 56%), in Kostroma (Editor’s Note: Governor Sitnikov did with 64%), Tambov Oblast stands out very much. I know that Governor Nikitin had about 20% of rating, and in the end he scored 85%, and such a situation can result in problems for authorities’ institutions on the eve of the elections to the State Duma and during these elections.

In general I conclude from the results of this voting that society lost its interest in elections — it is seen both in the turnout and results, though the course of the campaign itself showed that it was dry and insipid elections because there was no political fight. But everything will be completely different during the elections to the State Duma — the “steam” that is accumulating now in the light of protest moods needs to burst somewhere, and this can be expressed in parliamentary elections like voting for non-systemic politicians or campaigns of protest because of their results. Yes, now everything looks great for the Kremlin and the authorities’ party, but the probability of a Bolotnaya protest has increased.

Photo: Ilya Repin
The current situation is unpleasant for parties of the parliamentary opposition, and here only an idea will help them, but will they look for it? Hard to say

“There is a crisis of trust in all parliamentary parties

Why is people’s interest in local and regional elections falling, as you noted?

There is a crisis of trust in all parliamentary parties, and at the same time people don’t see an alternative to them. And the attempts to create new parties For Truth!, New People though turned out to be projects with big financial injections but with little return, these parties performed the minimum tasks obtaining mandates in some regions, but they didn’t show something bigger, and their fate now looks quite unpromising, so these attempts unlikely can offer something to the voter in the campaign for the Duma.

If the parties that, as I understand, separated from people are guilty of the low turnout, since there is a crisis of trust, there is a question: can old parties get rid of people’s low trust and offer them something new?

All parties have possibilities. This year United Russia’s ratings have grown because it managed to fit in the COVID-19 agenda, and the creation of volunteer centres helped stop the fall of United Russia’s ratings and growth of the anti-rating. Of course, if society was interested in elections where there was no interest, the numbers of United Russia wouldn’t be impressive, but it is a fact of life — the party has improved the ratings.

Other parliamentary parties also have the possibility of increasing people’s trust, first of all, it will be attempts to win the protesting electorate over, but everything will turn on how bright not only statements of the parties but also their actions will be, while without this the parliamentary opposition will be considered like it is considered now like a spoiler of the authorities’ party. Yes, the current situation is unpleasant for parties of the parliamentary opposition, and here only an idea will help them, but will they look for it? Hard to say.

Photo: kamgov.ru
Solodov managed to find money for necessary social construction sites from the regional budget and obtained tranches from the federal centre to beautify cities and improve medical equipment

Some governors were lucky with the turnouts. And I want to ask which winner on 13 September can be singled out as a creator of his own success, without a big role of his party, strategists, the administration. Which regional leaders managed to prove the post of governor suits him with their work?

First of all, Vladimir Solodov in Kamchatka Krai proved it — he managed to become a man of the people, so to speak: he coped with the region’s sore points — he managed to turn the budget policy to a direction people need than his predecessor. Solodov managed to find money for necessary social construction sites from the regional budget and obtained tranches from the federal centre to beautify cities and improve medical equipment. And, of course, Solodov very actively talked with residents of the region.

Then I would note Vladimir Uyba here who was elected as head of Komi. His main merit was to fight off the situation with coronavirus: the person arrived in the region that was in a critical epidemiological situation and managed to stop the growth of the incidence. Though Uyba has a degree in Medicine, he significantly decreased the growth pace of coronavirus cases. And, of course, I will note Mikhail Razvozhayev who became the governor of Sevastopol. He was a good mayor of the city, and the ability to establish communication with citizens of Sevastopol became key here: Razvozhayev managed to become people’s governor through communication with people on his Instagram account. But as the new governor isn’t an economist, now everything will depend on his team. If Razvozhayev doesn’t hold the bar he set himself (like Solodov did in Kamchatka, by the way), he will lose all the trust.

Photo: rkomi.ru
Though Uyba has a degree in Medicine, he significantly decreased the growth pace of coronavirus cases

“The Kremlin didn’t influence any region except Irkutsk”

Why didn’t you mention the elected governor of Chuvashia whom you praised for his democratic approach in communication with people in our previous talk? Didn’t he develop it into a pre-electoral campaign?

I wouldn’t single Oleg Nikolayev out here for a simple reason — he created the above-mentioned image in Chuvashia long before the beginning of the campaign. Nikolayev’s campaign was even enough, not especially bright and was a continuation of Nikolayev’s activity he ran as a State Duma deputy.

Where did the Kremlin play the key role in the governor election except for Irkutsk Oblast? Perhaps in Arkhangelsk where tensions just recently ran high around Shiyes and the possible union with Nenets Autonomous Okrug?

The Kremlin didn’t influence any region except Irkutsk — the Kremlin frankly pulled Igor Kobzev, managed to agree with Shchapov (this was noticeable in the CPRF candidate’s statements who simply lost in the last weeks before the elections). Tsybulsky in Arkhangelsk managed on his own, as well as the other governors.

Do you think that the refusal to register Tsybulsky’s opponent Mandrykin from Stop Shiyes! environmental movement was the first one’s step? Here, by the way, we can also remember the refusal to register Uyba’s rival from Komi — strong communist Mikhailov was withdrawn.

I wouldn’t put Tsybulsky and Uyba in line — they showed they are different managers. Uyba already can be listed as a successful manager, while Tsybulsky made many mistakes throughout his campaign and it was seen Moscow corrected precisely his mistakes. As for the non-allowance of strong candidates, yes, we can’t exclude that it was Moscow’s position, but this position of the Kremlin was sound. Why? If the topic of ecology had been key during the voting, it would have meant the collapse of the authorities’ party, Tsybulsky and Uyba.

What would have happened if all strong candidates for governors had been registered? Would the Kremlin’s candidates have failed everywhere?

Such a scenario could have played into hands of pro-power candidates — opponents could have got their votes and, moreover, they would have become a good candidate in the public eye. But such a picture is a very theoretical case, and in practice in Russia it is impossible — there is a municipal filter, while most candidates wouldn’t go through it.

Photo: dvinanews.ru
Tsybulsky made many mistakes throughout his campaign and it was seen Moscow corrected precisely his mistakes

“It is important to note that Rustam Minnikhanov is one of the successful heads of Russia’s regions

Mr Fetisov, why do our people anyway mostly vote for the powers candidates and authorities’ governors running for the second, third term? Because we can’t blame all results on the efficiency of strategists, the administration, other things.

Here we have a totality of factors. It is both the absence of a serious alternative to a governor like in Tatarstan and the fact that society is still interested in the conservation of the famous stability, and moreover, protest moods haven’t reached many regions yet. And back to your head of the republic, it is important to note that Rustam Minnikhanov is one of the successful heads of Russia’s regions, your region is economically favourable and there weren’t prerequisites for the appearance of a serious opponent to Minnikhanov in the previous elections. Even though some of the strong opponents ran against the head of Tatarstan, Minnikhanov would anyway have the victory.

Can we say after these elections that the issue of replacement of the election of regional leaders for appointments is a low priority on the authorities’ agenda?

Everything will depend on the results of the elections to the State Duma. And now everything seems to be good in the governor elections for the authorities, it anyway affects the legitimacy of the system and complicates the task in the 2021 State Duma elections, this is why the possibility of cancellation of governor elections will be given a pause. And if the Kremlin goes back to this issue, this will happen only in case the elections to the Duma will fail for the authorities, that’s to say, if United Russia loses constitutional majority. As the current situation shows, the authorities’ party will be satisfied only with this result.

Photo: tatarstan.ru
Even though some of the strong opponents ran against the head of Tatarstan, Minnikhanov would anyway have the victory

After elections in autumn, the Kremlin rarely avoids rotations among governors. Will this happen this time as well?

Considering what’s happening in Belarus, I am sure that the Kremlin won’t drag on governors’ dismissals. And I think we will see them soon, very soon.

I can assume that Saratov Governor Radayev, Ulyanovsk head Morozov can be fired. Do you agree?

Radayev won’t be fired for sure, but here everything will depend on how Radayev’s compatriot Vyacheslav Volodin’s position will look like by the appointment, the latter supports the governors. Morozov can certainly be fired, Bitarov from North Ossetia and governors of two or three regions the Kremlin has complaints about can leave.

Photo: glavarb.ru
There is an important factor — the presence of a substitute, while Bashkiria doesn’t have an obvious substitute, and this plays into Khabirov’s hands

Telegram channels said once again that the Kremlin is ready to see Rady Khabirov off.

Telegram channels have their own agenda that’s far from reality. But Khabirov’s positions indeed weakened after the story about Bashkir Soda Company. And the issue of Khabirov is up in the air. In his case, a lot will turn on how his opponents will act, how they will promote the role of the governor in the story about BSC, and a lot of will turn on how Khabirov will position himself. Plus, there is an important factor — the presence of a substitute, while Bashkiria doesn’t have an obvious substitute, and this plays into Khabirov’s hands.

Interviewed by Sergey Kochnev