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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Younger Lebed Wins In Regional Elections

Alexei Lebed, younger brother of recently deposed Security Council secretary Alexander Lebed, led the charge Sunday as opposition candidates continued their drive to evict Kremlin-appointed incumbents from their gubernatorial seats in the regions.

Grabbing 42 percent of the vote in the republic of Khakassia, in southern Siberia, Lebed, currently a State Duma deputy from the region, easily beat out incumbent Yevgeny Smirnov, who finished third and will not participate in next month's run-off election.

In the weekend's seven regional elections, incumbents were headed for victory in four. But overall, the current governors, most of whom were handpicked by President Boris Yeltsin, are losing ground.

Although, as a rule, incumbents enjoy easier access to the local press and media, as well as more copious funding, only half of this fall's 24 conclusive gubernatorial races have gone to those currently in office.

As well as highlighting the at-times strained relationship between Moscow and the regions, Russia's first free gubernatorial elections have the added significance of deciding the makeup of the upper house of parliament, or Federation Council, where heads of local administrations hold half the seats.

Moscow has so far put a brave face on the disappointing results. Pointing out that only one Communist Party candidate -- Altai legislator Alexander Surikov -- came to power Sunday, Kremlin administrator Alexander Kazakov told a press conference that he considers the results a blow to the leftist opposition.

"The attempted communist comeback in the gubernatorial elections has obviously failed," said Kazakov, a deputy head of the presidential administration. He scored the election 19 to five, in favor of "reformers."

Results in Khakassia, where incumbent Smirnov was endorsed by the pro-Kremlin Our Home Is Russia faction as well as the local Communist Party chapter but still failed to gather the 10 percent of the vote required to participate in the runoff election, illustrate how clouded regional party politics have become.

Lebed, 41, a career military man who heads a paratrooper division that was transferred from Moldova to Khakassia in 1992, was supported in his campaign by a powerful local aluminum works lobby.

Khakassia also has a rich supply of coal, and local administrators said it comes as little surprise that Lebed's second-round challenger will be Yevgeny Reznikov, the general director of the local coal company KhakasUgol. A member of no party, Reznikov won 17 percent of the vote.

KhakasUgol and the Sayan aluminum factory that supported Lebed are the region's two largest employers, and the incumbents' defeat indicates a desire on the part of Khakassia to win stronger regional controls over natural resources, according to Khakassia administration spokesman Pyotr Kulumayev.

Lebed, a member of the Regions of Russia Duma faction, ran as an independent, without the formal endorsement of his charismatic older brother, Alexander.

Other weekend winners included the incumbent governor of Samara, Konstantin Titov, who defeated a communist challenger, and Vladislav Tikhomirov, who was re-elected as governor of Ivanovo.