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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberal Shows Strong in St. Pete Vote

ST. PETERSBURG -- Anatoly Sobchak, the liberal mayor of Russia's second city and one of the country's best known politicians, has won the first-round vote in a bid for re-election that he said offers promising news to the nation's democrats.

Sobchak won a healthy 29 percent of Sunday's vote, although he looks set for a tough battle in the second round. First Deputy Mayor Vladimir Yakovlev gained a surprising 21.6 percent of the vote -- enough to win if people who supported other candidates in the race give him their votes in the runoff.

But if the news was mixed for Sobchak, reformist presidential candidates can take comfort in the absence of upsets in the country's most liberal bastion.

Added together, reformist candidates won some 67 percent of the mayoral vote, while Communist Party candidate Yury Sevenard garnered only 10 percent.

Sobchak called the result "proof that the city's mood is democratic," adding that, "St. Petersburg is a regional rehearsal of the national elections and if St. Petersburg chooses reform, all of Russia will choose reform."

Turnout was 49 percent in elections to a post that has been renamed "governor" from mayor, but remains unchanged in scope.

A relatively unknown official in the Sobchak administration before Sunday's election, Yakovlev has set himself apart from Sobchak during the campaign by referring to his career record as a city official, stressing that he is a man of action, rather than words.

Independent Democratic candidate Yury Boldyrev, whose campaign was troubled by questions over his residency that were later declared spurious, finished third Sunday with 17.1 percent of the vote. He was followed by Sevenard.

As no candidate claimed the 50 percent required for outright victory, the two highest Sobchak. Boldyrev's office could not be contacted for comment.

Early returns had showed Yakovlev in the lead until about midnight Sunday, but Sobchak forged ahead in the early hours of Monday morning.

Beaming with the confidence made familiar by his campaign posters and tightly packaged television campaign appearances, Yakovlev said Monday that, "These are exactly the kinds of results we expected."

He reiterated charges that the Sobchak campaign was manipulating the media and criticized the mayor for buckling under pressure from Moscow and rescheduling the first round to Sunday from the original date of June 16.

"If these are the sort of results we are getting in the short time we have had to run in such conditions of media manipulation and blackout, then we will definitely win given more time," Yakovlev said.

"My only plan at the moment is to win, and if things continue like this, we will," he added.

A visibly exhausted Sobchak, appearing on a special Channel 5 election program at 3 a.m. Monday, when 75 percent of the city's precincts had reported, said: "We can look for a colorful race in the second round," promising "comprehensive, real debates" with his contender ahead of the runoff vote.

Sobchak has called the candidacy of his former colleague "a stab in the back."

He has also charged that Yakovlev's campaign was "being financed by structures in Moscow that don't wish to see an independent mayor in St. Petersburg."

In an article published in the St. Petersburg daily newspaper Sankt-Peterburgsky Vedemosti last Wednesday, Sobchak linked the financing of Yakovlev's vast advertising campaign to Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

On Monday, Sobchak said on NTV television's "Hero of the Day" that the choice standing before St. Petersburgers is whether they want an independent mayor or a mayor who is in someone's pocket.