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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

July Runoff Will Decide Nizhny Governor's Race

The race to succeed Boris Nemtsov as governor of Nizhny Novgorod region will go to a second round of voting after Sunday's poll failed to produce a clear-cut winner.


The two leading candidates, Communist Gennady Khodyrev and pro-reform challenger Ivan Sklyarov, will face each other in the second round July 13, as neither got more than 50 percent of the vote, election officials said Monday.


The election was called after Nemtsov left for Moscow to become first deputy prime minister. It has turned into a referendum on Nemtsov's record as a reformer who turned the region into a laboratory for economic reform, and on the new team of market-oriented reformers in the cabinet.


A Communist victory would be a serious blow to the government's prestige. Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov campaigned personally for Khodyrev, as did nationalist opposition figure Vladimir Zhirinovsky.


According to preliminary results, the 49-year-old Sklyarov, took 41 percent of the vote, while Khodyrev, 54, polled 37 percent. Interfax news agency reported that two democratic challengers, local businessman Vadim Bulavinov and television journalist Nina Zvereva picked up 8 percent and 6 percent.


Nemtsov said Monday he expected a Sklyarov victory in the next round. "No matter how many trainloads of Communists ... arrive in Nizhny Novgorod, it has become a center of progressive developments and no statements can tarnish these concrete deeds,'' he was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.


Local observers say the outcome of the second round turns on which of the two leading candidates can win the confidence of voters who supported Bulavinov and Zvereva. Campaign staffers for the two said they would not endorse Sklyarov, because they do not believe in his reform credentials. Sklyarov, the mayor of the regional capital, was previously a senior Communist Party official.


"Part of the vote will go to Sklyarov and part to Khodyrev," Bulavinov campaign aide Alexei Lyapin said in a telephone interview Monday. "Most will go to Sklyarov because, in the eyes of the voters, he is more progressive than Khodyrev, although one could argue with that opinion."


"Neither Khodyrev or Sklyarov appeal to out voters," said Sergei Kapkov, Zvereva's campaign chief, adding that if Zvereva's supporters turn out at all in the next round, they will likely be split between the two candidates.


Kapkov predicted that support for Sklyarov could be seriously affected by the holiday season, as voters leave town for their country dachas. "The later the second round takes place, the worse it is for Sklyarov," he said.


Khodyrev's support is concentrated in rural districts and is therefore not affected by the traditional summer exodus to the countryside, said Kapkov. Another weekend poll, to choose a successor to Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Sysuyev as mayor of the Volga River city of Samara is also to go to a second round July 13.


Anatoly Afanasyev, deputy mayor and Sysuyev's favored candidate, led with 28 percent and will run off against Georgy Limansky, a deputy in the regional legislature, who polled 20 percent. Limansky's campaign was boosted by endorsements from ousted Security Council Secretary Alexander Lebed and Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.


"The result is what everyone was saying would happen," Sysuyev told a press conference Monday. Sysuyev added that Afanasyev would be "much, much better for the city" than Limansky.


Elections for two State Duma seats in the Chelyabinsk region were declared invalid after less than 25 percent of registered voters turned out. The elections will likely be repeated in the fall, Itar-Tass reported.