Johnson's Russia List
22 September 2003
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A CDI Project
Putin protegee falls short of win in St Petersburg
By Ron Popeski
ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Sept 22 (Reuters) - A close ally of Vladimir Putin
fell just short of outright victory in elections for governor of the
president's home town, with the low turnout sparking alarm about the state
of post-Soviet democracy.
In a race watched closely to determine the Kremlin leader's standing ahead
of national polls, President Putin's protege Valentina Matviyenko won 48.7
percent of Sunday's vote in St Petersburg -- far ahead of eight rivals but
shy of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.
Politicians throughout Russia expressed concern at the turnout -- seven of
10 voters stayed home -- and the high number of spoiled ballots, reflecting
indifference to politics.
Matviyenko, backed by Putin in a bruising campaign marked by lawsuits and
mutual accusations, described the outcome as a victory and vowed to win
over reticent voters to capture a run-off next month. She acknowledged
general public apathy but said dirty tricks by her rivals were largely to
"There are of course many unhappy, frustrated voters. There is a measure of
mistrust in the authorities and in the election process," she told a news
"But one of the main factors relates to the methods used by my opponents
and that played a role. This was a form of protest by residents against the
election as they saw it."
Observers say she will have little difficulty defeating the outgoing deputy
governor, Anna Markova, in the run-off. Markova scored just 15.8 percent on
With the December parliamentary elections looming, Putin clearly believed
there was enough at stake for him to drop his usual reticence and back
Matviyenko -- on national television.
The president, almost certain to seek re-election next year, also delivered
a robust weekend speech urging United Russia, the biggest pro-Kremlin
party, to fight hard in December's parliamentary elections. Polls show
United Russia and the Communists even in the race for 450 seats in parliament.
LOW TURNOUT RINGS ALARM BELLS
Only 29 percent of voters bothered to vote on Sunday. Adding to alarm over
public attitudes was the fact that nearly 11 percent of those who went to
polling stations chose the "Against all candidates" option on the ballot.
That rang alarm bells far beyond the city of 4.5 million.
"People simply do not believe this is an investment which affects their
lives," Irina Khakamada, deputy chairman of the national parliament and a
top liberal, told Ekho Moskvy radio.
"The effect may be limited in this election, but if it happens in the
parliamentary election, it will be a disaster."
Vadim Tyulpanov, chairman of St Petersburg city council, said many saw the
poll as being "conducted without them, that there was no point in voting
because everything was decided."
Matviyenko, a former deputy prime minister and loyal Putin lieutenant in
the old tsarist capital, said the president's support "gives me
considerable responsibility...It means I have obligations to uphold." She
said she had spoken to the Kremlin leader who "described the outcome as a
very good one."
The city's elegant canals and palaces cannot mask Soviet-era problems, with
buildings and roads in disrepair and many residents in "communal" flats,
sharing kitchens or bathrooms.
Matviyenko was named Putin's prefect in Russia's northwest earlier this
year, a staging post for taking over as governor.
Victory in St Petersburg would avenge the humiliation the Kremlin leader
suffered in 2000, when Matviyenko parachuted into the city's election only
to withdraw when polls put her far behind the governor of the time, loathed