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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

16 Run to Govern Leningrad Region

Former Leningrad region Governor Vadim Gustov bids to return to his old job against 15 other candidates in the first round of elections Sunday for the post of chief executive in the Ireland-sized area surrounding St. Petersburg.

Analysts and opinion polls say Gustov, who resigned in September 1998 to become deputy prime minister only to be fired after eight months, is the favorite. He's followed by acting Governor Valery Serdyukov; Viktor Zubkov, a deputy tax minister in the federal government; and Valery Kovalyov, dean of St. Petersburg's Railway University.

Gustov, who won the governorship in a landslide in 1996, "has a serious chance because he has been there for a long time," said Leonid Kesselman, a political analyst at the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Sociology.

"But there is a high possibility of not having anyone win the first round," Kesselman said. If no one gets more than 50 percent, a second round is held between the top two finishers.

Gustov has shown talent for getting along with figures spanning the political spectrum - from communists to free-market liberals. In office, he won plaudits from business for creating one of Russia's most investor-friendly tax regimes, drawing companies such as Caterpillar, Ford and Philip Morris to the economically depressed region.

Other candidates include Boris Moiseyev, a Yabloko-backed State Duma deputy; former police chief Anatoly Ponidelko; and Damir Shadeyev, a deputy in the regional legislature.

The campaign has been marked by dirty tricks and violence, with candidates and their staff being physically attacked, accusations of theft and misappropriation of funds, and faked campaign signs. The head of the regional election commission said recent threats by several candidates made him fear for his life.

On Tuesday, the regional prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the publication of what it said could be libelous material published by three St. Petersburg newspapers about Gustov and another candidate, Itar-Tass reported.

Some voters have expressed frustration, with one voter, Anna Steparnona, 75, standing up at a recent town meeting in the settlement of Morozov and stating resolutely that "there are too many candidates in this election."

Sveta Lovkova, 33, a resident of the Vsevolozhk region, said that with a husband and two kids surviving on meager welfare payments, she does not know "which candidate can solve her problems."

"We don't have enough money to buy bread ... and it's shameful to have to search through second- and third-hand clothing stores because we can't afford a regular shop," said Lovkova, who receives 230 rubles (about $9) a month.

Michael Veresov, a 27-year-old salesman, said that the region needs "financial stability," but he doesn't have much confidence in any of the candidates. "I don't trust any of those thieves ... they are all the same," he said.