Johnson's Russia List
19 September 2003
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A CDI Project
Putin protégéé set to avenge St Petersburg defeat
By Konstantin Trifonov
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Voters in St Petersburg choose a
new governor at the weekend, with President Vladimir Putin's protégéé
likely to win and avenge a humiliating withdrawal in the Kremlin leader's
home town three years ago.
Valentina Matviyenko, long considered Putin's trusted ally, heads a field
of eight in Sunday's poll, closely watched ahead of country-wide
parliamentary elections and the highly popular Putin's expected bid for a
second term next March.
Polls put support for Matviyenko at 40 percent, compared with less than 10
for her nearest rival. But she may still fall short of the 50 percent
needed to win outright in the opening round.
Previously a deputy prime minister, Matviyenko was appointed Putin's
prefect in Russia's Northwest in March. That was a stepping stone to take
over the key governor's chair in the city from which Putin has drawn much
of his ministerial team.
"Matviyenko is someone Putin can trust in his home town," said Boris
Makarenko, deputy head of the Institute of Political Technologies think
tank. "The problem is that he doesn't have enough Matviyenkos to put in
Benefiting from frequent media exposure in a bruising campaign, Matviyenko
tried to steer clear of trouble by pledging to reverse dilapidation the
city's elegant canals cannot mask.
With no qualms about exploiting links with Putin, billboards in the city of
4.5 million featured a picture of her alongside the president and the
slogan "Together, we can do anything."
PUTIN'S BEST WISHES
Putin offered Matviyenko his "best wishes for victory" at a Kremlin meeting
broadcast on television. Other candidates said that violated electoral law,
but a court dismissed the claim.
Matviyenko, who lived most of her adult life in St Petersburg before moving
to Moscow, "parachuted" into the 2000 campaign to unseat governor Vladimir
Yakovlev -- loathed by the president since both worked in the city council
in the 1990s.
But she withdrew after polls put her far behind Yakovlev.
Putin accused Yakovlev of hounding from office Anatoly Sobchak -- his
mentor and a prominent reformer at the end of the Soviet era. When Sobchak
died of a heart attack in 2000, Putin told mourners, he had been "killed."
Yakovlev, facing increasing charges of mismanagement, announced in the
run-up to the city's 300th anniversary celebrations in May -- used by Putin
as a showcase for a meeting of world leaders -- that he was leaving office
Putin appointed him deputy prime minister responsible for improving
Russia's crumbling housing, an uphill task.
The current race was punctuated by other legal challenges and less than
Supporters of Matviyenko's closest rival, deputy governor Anna Markova,
attacked her links with Putin by bringing a horse onto St Petersburg's main
thoroughfare, Nevsky Prospekt.
"Would you vote for a horse if the president asked you to?" said a sign
standing nearby on the pavement.
Another rival, Sergei Belyayev, had balloons flown over the Neva River
emblazoned with the slogan "Truly a man's job."