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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Elections Invalidated In Nizhny Novgorod

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Central Russia -- The results of Nizhny Novgorod's mayoral election were declared invalid Wednesday after the city's election committee ruled that the campaigns of three of the five candidates running for the post committed gross "violations of the election laws."

But the winner of the election, businessman Andrei Klimentyev, 43, said the decision to throw out the result and hold a new election was part of an organized campaign by local and federal officials to prevent him from taking the post he won Sunday with 34 percent of the vote.

The election of Klimentyev, who was twice convicted of petty crime in the 1980s and is currently awaiting retrial on charges that he misappropriated a $30 million Finance Ministry loan, provoked an outspoken and critical reaction from top Russian government officials, including acting First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, the former governor of Nizhny Novgorod and a former Klimentyev friend.

"There are two ways for them now: Either liquidate me or jail me," Klimentyev said at a news conference Wednesday where he announced that he had filed an official complaint objecting to the decision and that he intends to take part in the new election, which by law must take place within the next four months.

"I know what they want. They hope that by the time they run the next elections I will be convicted, but that won't happen. The trial will not finish before September, so they don't have enough time," he said.

Klimentyev's election is particularly embarrassing to federal officials who have cultivated Nizhny Novgorod's reputation as "the cradle of market reforms in Russia." It is also embarrassing to President Boris Yeltsin who has voiced concern about Klimentyev's election and has campaigned to oust criminals elected to posts across Russia.

But the decision to annul the election angered many residents of Nizhny Novgorod who view it as unwarranted interference by federal officials in their local affairs.

Oleg Shmonin, a taxi driver, said he had intended to vote for another candidate in the first election. "But now I will vote for Klimentyev just to prove the point. Damned democracy!"

Local newspapers and television stations called the overturned election a sign of the untimely death of democracy in the city. "I was quite upset when I heard that Klimentyev won, but what they are doing now is even worse," said Tamara, a young journalist.

At his news conference Wednesday, Klimentyev predicted that Nizhny Novgorod voters, unhappy with the annulment of the election, would deliver a 90 percent vote for him in the new poll.Nizhny Novgorod regional Governor Ivan Sklyarov, fearing mass protests, urged the public to remain calm.

According to its official statement, the city's election committee overturned the election results because several campaigns -- those of Klimentyev, pro-government candidate Vladimir Gorin and former Nizhny Novgorod Mayor Dmitry Bednyakov -- made illegal promises to voters that they would improve their financial well-being and violated rules governing published campaign materials. One of the campaigns, the committee said, illegally obtained Sklyarov's endorsement.

Russia's campaign law makes any promises of financial improvements for voters illegal, according to Anatoly Nekrasov, chairman of the Nizhny Novgorod regional election committee.

Under such a regulation many elections, including Yeltsin's in 1996, in which he promised to pay back wages and pensions, and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky's elections which featured promises to provide every Russian woman with a French brassiere and every man with a bottle of vodka, would be declared invalid.

When asked why the committee did nothing regarding the violations during the campaign, Nekrasov said the committee had difficulties applying the new tougher campaign law.

Although the election was thrown out for technical violations, there is widespread belief here that federal authorities pressured the committee to make the decision. Yeltsin aide Yevgeny Savostyanov, sent to Nizhny Novgorod on Wednesday to investigate the election, said he met with committee officials well after the decision was announced but made no effort to hide his distaste for Klimentyev.

"If in our country people with criminal connections are getting into power it has to be stopped," Savostyanov said Wednesday. He accused Klimentyev of seeking office for immunity from prosecution that the position provides.

Russia's prosecutor general, Yury Skuratov, was quoted by Interfax as saying he would press for legislative changes to prevent criminals infiltrating politics.

Klimentyev, however, ridiculed charges that he was a dangerous criminal, trotting out pictures at his news conference of himself and Nemtsov from the early 1990s.

"This is what is called, 'Not allowing criminals at a gun-shot distance to the power,'" Klimentyev said, referring to a recent comment made by Nemtsov regarding Klimentyev's victory.

Klimentyev served as an economic and political adviser to Nemtsov in Nemtsov's early years as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region. "I left him after I realized that he is up to some silly things," Klimentyev said of the sudden end to their friendship in 1994.Klimentyev was convicted last year of misappropriating a $30 million federal loan and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He had already served that much time as part of his pretrial detention and was ordered released. Klimentyev has maintained his innocence and accused Nemtsov of diverting the loan and accepting $800,000 in bribes. Nemtsov denies the charges.