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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nizhny Poll to Fill Empty Mayor's Seat

Voters in Nizhny Novgorod on Sunday will choose a mayor for the second time this year, because of the cancellation of the initial election won by controversial businessman Andrei Klimentyev.

Klimentyev, who has since been convicted of embezzlement, was barred from running. But Vladimir Semago, a flamboyant Communist deputy in parliament's lower house, is running effectively as his proxy and is expected to be one of the leading vote-getters among the dozen candidates. Klimentyev's wife is working as Semago's campaign manager.

Other leading candidates are Yury Lebedev, who was the presidential envoy to the region but lost his job after Klimentyev's win, and Dmitry Bednyakov, a former Nizhny Novgorod mayor who is considered the choice of the regional authorities.

Since Klimentyev won by defeating four other candidates in the March mayoral elections, the local legislature has amended electoral law to allow for a second round of voting. If none of the 12 candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes Sunday, a runoff will be held Oct. 11.

Klimentyev won the March 29 poll while on trial. His victory infuriated federal authorities, and the local election committee voided the results April 1, citing campaign violations. The next day, Klimentyev's bail was withdrawn and he has remained in jail ever since.

He was convicted in May of embezzling close to $3 million of a $30 million government loan and sentenced to six years in prison.

Klimentyev, 43, for years had been a friend of Boris Nemtsov, the former deputy prime minister who was once governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region. They had a falling out when the embezzlement case was opened in 1995.

The voiding of Klimentyev's electoral victory and his subsequent jailing, seemingly on the orders of the authorities in Moscow, only increased his popularity in Russia's third largest city. In April, people took to the streets to protest.

Tensions and uncertainty have continued during the new election campaign. Klimentyev had stayed in the race until August, when the Supreme Court upheld his conviction and made it impossible for him to run.

"I just wish all this election hysteria would be over," said a woman at the Nizhny Novgorod regional election committee, who asked not to be identified.

With Klimentyev's blessing, Semago then stepped into the campaign in his place. Even Klimentyev's campaign slogan f "Work for the Strong, Care for the Weak" f remained unchanged."It would be nice if Semago wins straight in the first round. I've spent so much time on all those campaigns," Klimentyev's wife, Oksana Klimentyeva, said in a telephone interview Friday.

She said it has been a heated race.

"All over the place there are posters, television shows and fliers promoting candidates," Klimentyeva said.