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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kremlin Puts Spin on Regional Poll Losses

Only one sitting governor was returned to his post in seven regional elections over the weekend, but Kremlin officials put a positive spin on the results Monday, arguing that they regarded all but the hardest-line opponents as their allies.

Of seven elections held Sunday, four produced clear results: The sitting governor won in the Komi-Permyak region in the Urals, but challengers won in two remote Siberian regions and the Stavropol region in south Russia.

The first round of voting was inconclusive in three other regions -- Murmansk, Kamchatka and Altai -- where runoffs will be held in December.

The losses by incumbents are in theory bad news for the Kremlin since sitting governors, who were mostly appointed by President Boris Yeltsin, usually adopt a pro-Kremlin line.

But interpreting Sunday's results is difficult because the Kremlin, perhaps because of the embarrassment of seeing pro-government incumbents lose, has tried to coopt gubernatorial winners of almost any political stripe.

Alexander Kazakov, first deputy to presidential Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais, said Monday three of the four races had "clearly produced a victory for the presidential team," Itar-Tass reported.

The results bring to 11 the number of incumbents defeated in 20 gubernatorial elections decided so far this autumn. But Kazakov said that in 15 of the races to date, pro-reform candidates had claimed the governor's mansion.

This rosy view was shared by Sergei Filatov, head of the All-Russian Coordination Council, which backs reform-minded candidates in the regions. A minimum of 15 new governors "in the views, deeds and approaches are supporters of the development of reforms and democracy," regardless of party affiliation, he said Monday.

The elections mark the first time in many regions that governors will be chosen by popular vote rather than appointed by Moscow. The results will play a crucial national role in that local governors will make up the Federation Council, the upper house of Parliament.

In most of the 52 gubernatorial elections scheduled for the autumn, incumbents face the nationalist and communist opposition.

The Kremlin conceded a clear defeat only in Stavropol krai, some 1,300 kilometers south of Moscow, where campaigning by communist leader Gennady Zyuganov helped challenger Alexander Chernogorov win 55 percent of the vote.

Challengers more acceptable to the Kremlin won in the Ust-Orda Buryat autonomous okrug near Irkutsk and in the Koryak region, part of the Kamchatka region of Russia's Far East where challValentina Bronevich became the first woman to be elected regional governor.

The one incumbent to retain his post Sunday was Nikolai Poluyanov in the Komi-Permyak autonomous okrug, some 1,100 kilometers east of Moscow. Two of the runoff votes should provide some welcome news for the Kremlin. In the Murmansk and Kamchatka oblasts, the incumbents led but failed to collect the 50 percent required for victory.

In the Altai krai, however, communist challenger Alexander Surikov led incumbent Lev Korshunov by 47 to 43 percent of the vote. Kazakov admitted Monday that the sitting governor would be in for tough fight to hold his post.