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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Petersburg Voters Set To Buck Trend at Polls

ST. PETERSBURG -- Russia's window on the West and second largest city should buck the national trend and vote for further reform at the coming parliamentary election, polls show.


St. Petersburg is once again at odds with the vast land mass to the east, where communists and nationalists are riding a swell of resentment at hardship caused by four years of post-Soviet upheaval.


As one liberal candidate in the city of 5 million put it, somewhat ruefully: "St Petersburg isn't Russia."


But the local struggle on Dec. 17 between liberals who back Boris Yeltsin and liberals who oppose him may provide the president with indications of his own prospects of rallying the reforming constituency in next June's presidential election.


Yury Nesterov, a candidate for the free-market group Yabloko, made clear his opposition to Yeltsin, recalling that economist Grigory Yavlinsky launched the party in 1993 as a democratic response to the president's shelling of parliament. Yeltsin's presidential system was an "aberration," he said.


Nesterov's analysis of the local popularity of reform betrays the intense civic pride that Muscovites and most other Russians dismiss as uppity, suspiciously Western, pretension in this faded grande dame of a city.


"The intellectual level of Petersburgers allows them to see that the solution to the problem is not a return to communist times," he said.


Many in the city's numerous education and research institutes as well as the hi-tech, defense and heavy industries have embraced Western-style reforms.


But the city's particular preference for reform goes beyond simple economics. As one middle-aged teacher put it: "Being able to travel, freedom of speech, cultural freedoms mean a lot to people here, perhaps more than they do to people with little education on a collective farm in the middle of nowhere."


Conversations with passers-by in the high-rise suburb of Kupchino showed people were confused by the choice of 43 parties and unsure whether voting would do much to relieve the hardships of everyday life. But nearly all intended to vote.


"I will vote but I'm not sure who for. It won't be for the communists. We can't go back," said one young woman on her way to work. But a man who complained about his pension not being paid regretted the passing of the old order.


A recent poll by the SNITs organization and published in Commersant Daily credited Yabloko with 21.9 percent of the vote in the city, close to the 21.2 percent it got in the December 1993 election and more than double its national poll rating.


Yabloko's main competition in the second city comes from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia. Our Home rated 15.2 percent in the SNITs poll compared to some 10 percent nationally.


More revealing of St. Petersburg's peculiarities, however, was the strong showing for other liberal parties that are struggling elsewhere in the country. Former prime minister Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice matched the Communists at 13.6 percent.