Petersburg Governor's Election Moved

ST. PETERSBURG -- Governor Vladimir Yakovlev has signed into force a law that moves up the date of St. Petersburg's gubernatorial elections to the same December day as national parliamentary elections - but the process of getting that law through the city council was marred by fist fights and allegations of vote-rigging.

Yakovlev has said that he moved the date up from April 2 to Dec. 19 because, among other things, it is more economical to organize one day of elections instead of two.

But since Yakovlev is running for the State Duma, parliament's lower house, as the No. 3 figure in the powerful Fatherland-All Russia bloc, behind Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, combining the two votes also lets Yakovlev ride upon the coattails of the popular Primakov.

The governor's office - which used to be the mayor's office, but was renamed earlier this decade - tried and failed eight times to convince the St. Petersburg city council to pass a law moving the vote up.

At one point last week, tensions were running so high that pro-Yakovlev lawmaker Sergei Nikeshin - who is also head of the St. Petersburg Bodybuilding Association - attacked two rival legislators. Nikeshin swung at the head of the Yabloko faction, Mikhail Amosov, and missed. He then dropped a member of the Yury Boldyrev bloc, Anatoly Krivenchenko, to the floor with a swift kick to his genitals.

"Even after he was on the floor, Nikeshin continued kicking him," Amosov said. Nikeshin said Kriven-chenko had "gotten in the way" while he was trying to beat up Amosov.

Krivenchenko, for his part, said, "Nikeshin kicked me in a very important spot for a man. Doctors told me the consequences will not appear immediately, so I will tell you [how I'm doing] in about a month."

Federal election law mandates that there be at least 70 days between the moment a law setting an election date comes into force and the voting day itself. For the vote to be held Dec. 19, Yakovlev had until last Friday to sign the law.

Pro-Yakovlev legislators rammed the bill through Friday, but the St. Petersburg Audit Chamber said they "illegally used the [voting] keys of six [absent] lawmakers." Those six have written a complaint to the City Prosecutor's Office.

A group of legislators from the State Duma who were observing that vote wrote a letter to Governor Yakovlev to protest it that said, "We have witnessed an illegal attempt to capture one of the branches of official power in the city by another."