Third-Term Governor Darkin: A Number of Problems for the “Master Lobbyist”

|Russia

In Primorsky Krai, where the construction of large-scale infrastructure is ongoing, Governor Darkin has been serving his third term in office, from February 2010. Although up until the preceding year there were many calls apprehensive of his reappointment for another term, since getting reappointed without hitch his reputation as “Master Lobbyist” rose rapidly. In Primorsky Krai not just APEC-related facilities, but plans for the construction of shipyards, automobile plants and hotels by means of foreign capital and joint ventures have been announced in succession, and in addition Vladivostok became the first city east of the Urals to be awarded the title of “City of Military Glory”. Governor Darkin has been chosen as one of the “Honorary Citizens of Vladivostok”, and the proposal has even been expressed of naming the bridge across the Golden Horn, which is currently under construction, the “Darkin Bridge”.

Nonetheless, the main reason why Governor Darkin was able to get reappointed was, at the end of the day, that without him it would not have been possible to maintain the political stability of the region, successfully implementing the construction of the related facilities for the national project of staging the APEC summit. If there hadn’t been such a factor, then it would have probably been simple for the federal center to relieve him of his post, in circumstances where many of his former staff have been arrested and prosecuted.

In that sense it can also be said that through him Primorsky Krai has been placed under yet stronger control by the federal center. With the November 2009 revision of the Far East and Zabaykalye program Primorsky Krai’s share of expenditure in the development of Vladivostok was doubled, and as a result the 2010 budget for Primorsky Krai was forced further into deficit. Locally there is suspicion that Governor Darkin accepted this increase in the share of expenditure in exchange for his own reappointment. A more blatant example was the background to the appointment of a senator to the Federation Council representing the body of executive power of Primorsky Krai. In March 2010 Governor Darkin recommended Galust Akhoyan, Chairman of the Committee on Fiscal Policy and Financial Resources of the Legislative Assembly of Primorsky Krai, as a candidate for this post. After the approval of personnel at the Legislative Assembly of Primorsky Krai was over, however, without giving a reason the recommendation was suddenly withdrawn, and recommended instead was Vladimir Kikot, Human Resources Department Chief at the Russian Ministry of the Interior and a militia lieutenant-general. The local newspaper Zolotoy Rog [Golden Horn] has scathingly criticized these circumstances as “a nullification of all the attempts of the government side to try and act as being close to the people”.

In Primorsky Krai on 10 October 2010, which was a “single voting day”, in addition to 26 cities and districts, elections took place for local chiefs and assemblies in many cities, towns and villages. United Russia took 69.8% of the total votes here, but many discrepancies were pointed out in the electoral strategy of the party’s Primorsky Krai branch, including 37 of the 47 candidates the party recommended in Lazo District having their credentials as candidates revoked by the local electoral commission. The turnout, across the board, was greatly below that at the time of the previous single voting day, and in particular the turnout for the by-election to the Vladivostok City Duma went to a record low of 7.85%. In addition in that same by-election Oleg Velgodsky, whom opposition parties including the Communist Party and Yabloko backed, was elected, keeping out the candidates of United Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party, etc. Such results at the elections for the State Duma and the Legislative Assembly of Primorsky Krai a year later would be cause for concern for the federal center.

Governor Darkin has paraded his flashy lobbying ability, yet in the region stern eyes are being cast on his social policy. With the blow of the increase in the share of expenditure for the development of Vladivostok, from the 2010 budget for Primorsky Krai on, various social budgets have been cut greatly, including: the budget for school dinners and allowances for public-sector employees such as teachers; subsidies for the use of public transportation for military veterans and the disabled; and support for heating provision agencies. The kindling of social unrest is smoldering, including large-scale demonstrations repeatedly occurring at the Dalnegorsk chemical firm “Bor [Boron]”, with the late-paying of wages as the cause. Criticism is also strong that effective measures against population outflow and decrease have not been worked out. Local experts are showing concern over whether they will be able to adequately secure the appropriate personnel to support the operation of the shipyards, oil refineries, APEC-related facilities, and hotels, etc., whose construction is ongoing. Will they be able to go on putting in order an environment to continue Primorsky Krai’s independent development even after the dust has settled on large-scale federal investment? Whether they will be able to demonstrate such skill will probably continue to be questioned further in the future, as a factor also deciding the career of Governor Darkin after the APEC summit.

[Translated by ERINA]