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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sobchak Upset in St. Pete Mayoral Race

In an upset of one of the leading symbols of post-Communist Russia, Anatoly Sobchak has lost a bid for re-election to the top job in St. Petersburg, losing by 2.1 percent to his former deputy, Vladimir Yakovlev.

The city's mayor-elect talked twice on the phone with President Boris Yeltsin on Monday.

In a tense count that was completed at 3 a.m. Monday, breakaway first deputy mayor Yakovlev won with 47.9 percent of the vote to Sobchak's 45.8 percent, with 6.3 percent voting against both candidates.

According to Yakovlev's campaign press secretary, Igor Sidorov, the presidential conversations included congratulations from Yeltsin. The two leaders also agreed that the St. Petersburg election's most important result was the "victory of democracy."

Yakovlev, 51, is scheduled to be sworn in Wednesday, the City Assembly announced, although technically Sobchak's term runs until June 12.

The Yakovlev victory upset polls conducted last week that predicted Sobchak would retain the executive chair -- a post renamed governor from mayor but unchanged in scope -- by a margin of at least 6 percent. The large number of undecided voters in the surveys, however, appears to have pushed Yakovlev over the top. election May 19, he concentrated on coalition building with the also-rans. Sunday night he maintained his victory was a national lesson to Yeltsin's democratic challengers, encouraging them to back the president to create a consolidated force against Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov.

"There are today no alternatives to Boris Yeltsin and people that I respect, like Yavlinsky, should understand this and confirm it," he said, referring to the president's most serious democratic challenger, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

Although the president conveyed his best wishes to Yakovlev, the Yeltsin administration was quick to downplay the significance of one aspect of the result, which could be construed as the first stone cast against incumbent officials in Russia.

"Under no circumstances is the St. Petersburg election a micro-model for the presidential elections," St. Petersburg presidential spokesman Sergei Tsyplyayev told a press conference. "It is a local election that will have no influence on the nationwide electorate."

Sobchak, however, put his defeat down to a general discontent in the country and drew a direct link with the June vote. "It's not a matter of my being defeated but of the depth of discontent with the situation in Russia," a determinedly upbeat Sobchak told a news conference, Reuters reported. "After my defeat, I'm more worried about the presidential election."

Valentin Kuptsov, a top official in the Communist Party, welcomed the result, which he saw as "an example of consolidation of various political forces in the struggle against representatives of the old power," Interfax reported.

Analysts differed on the national effects of the St. Petersburg vote.

Alexei Levinson, director of the Russian Center for Public Opinion and Market Research in Moscow, said: "In the eyes of naive voters, Sobchak was a synonym for Yeltsin, and the defeat of Sobchak could hurt Yeltsin's chances with such voters all over Russia."

Viktor Kremenyuk, deputy director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' USA/Canada Institute, said the St. Petersburg election "means that people are unhappy with the current authorities, and Mr. Yeltsin has to think hard about that -- that wherever possible, people vote against the current authorities."

Andrei Zagorsky, vice rector of the Moscow State Institute for International Affairs, differed, saying, "You must distinguish between the local level and the national level."

Levinson chalked up the Yakovlev victory to a shift in Moscow's affections which resulted in Sobchak being stripped of the support he initially had when the campaign began in April, although Yeltsin never officially took a stand in the election.

Yakovlev indicated his administration may have closer ties with the Moscow city administration, saying he had received a congratulatory call from Mayor Yury Luzhkov as well as Yeltsin. He said he and Luzhkov had plans for several joint projects, beginning with restoring highways between St. Petersburg and the capital.

Yakovlev grabbed an early lead of 4 percent with the first returns Sunday night, which came in at 11 p.m. His lead narrowed as the evening progressed, reaching a low of 0.8 percent at midnight. But by the next report he had recouped more than a percentage point over the incumbent mayor and never sank below a 1.9 percent lead for the rest of the night.

With all districts reporting, Yakovlev received 772,479 votes to Sobchak's 745,311. Those voting against both candidates totalled 95,175.

Only 1.6 million voters cast their ballots in Sunday's elections, 44.2 percent of St. Petersburg's 3.7 million electorate. There was no minimum turnout requirement for the second-round vote.

Yakovlev extended an olive branch to Sobchak early Monday morning, offering his vanquished opponent a job in the new administration. Sobchak declined later in the day.

Running on an election platform that focused on repairing St. Petersburg's corroding ?infrastructure, Yakovlev promised on election night to begin immediately preparing the city for winter, to revamp the education budget in time for the new school year and eliminate the deficits in payments for social benefits to the elderly and healthcare.

He also said the city "would not spend one kopek on the Olympics," encouraging private businesses instead to invest in Sobchak's pet project to obtain the 2004 Olympic Games for the city.

The campaign's only televised debate Friday night appeared to have done much to damage Sobchak's image.The 90-minute face-off between the candidates quickly degenerated into mud-slinging. At one point representatives of the Central Election Commission broke in to tell the candidates to "focus on concrete issues."

Alexander Yerofiyev of Gallup Market Facts said the debate shook Sobchak's image as a sophisticated orator and presented him "stooping to Yakovlev's level," while it suited Yakovlev's image as a plain-spoken, to-the-point manager.