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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Leader of 18 Years Loses Vote in South

The first round of elections to choose a leader for Karachaevo-Cherkessia, a region with a population of 436,000 people in southern Russia, ousted the man who had ruled for the past 18 years.

Incumbent Vladimir Khubiyev took only a few percent of the votes, according to preliminary results released by the local election commission Monday, losing to Stanislav Derev, a local vodka magnate who was elected mayor of the regional capital of Cherkessk with 40.1 percent of the vote. General Vladimir Semyonov, a native of the region who commanded Russia's ground forces until 1997, took 17.9 percent, the commission reported.

Since no candidate obtained more than 50 percent, Semyonov and Derev will compete in a runoff later this year.

Khubiyev was one of the last presidential appointees to run a Russian region. Most regional leaders are now appointed by democratic elections.

He first took control of the republic when it was part of the Stavropol region as head of the regional Communist Party committee, then the executive committee. President Boris Yeltsin appointed him acting head of the administration when the region split off from Stavropol in 1992 and then granted him a four-year term that ran out last year.

The Karachaevo-Cherkessia campaign was dominated by local personalities rather than national parties.

"We had almost all local, independent candidates," Mussa Psikhomakhov, head of the local election commission, said in a telephone interview Monday.

The only candidate backed by a national party, Communist Mikhail Yakush, a State Duma deputy, fell two points behind Semyonov.

Instead, the Cherkessk mayor, who reportedly wears a cap ? la Yury Luzhkov and professes his admiration for the Moscow mayor, squared off against the locally born General Semyonov, who ran on a law-and-order ticket.

The region has generally been free of the ethnic strife that has hit much of Russia's southern border. But Derev, an ethnic Cherkes, has been accused of fuelling ethnic conflict in the region with aspirations to create a "Greater Cherkessia" across the territory of neighboring North Caucasian republics. The region is populated by a patchwork of ethnic groups - like the Adyg and the Kabardin peoples - related to the Cherkes.

"Derev categorically denies any pro-Cherkessian inclinations," the Moscow daily Kommersant wrote last week. "But in the republic voices are already heard calling for the Karachai territories to secede from the republic if he wins."

Neighboring North Ossetia also went to the polls Sunday to elect a new regional parliament. The regional election commission declared the vote legitimate, but preliminary results were unavailable as of Monday.