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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sakha Voters Coaxed With City Discounts

More than enough voters cast ballots Sunday to make the Sakha republic's presidential election valid, and when the votes are all counted, Vyacheslav Shtyrov, the head of the Alrosa diamond giant, is expected to have won.

Many of the voters were lured to the polls by offers of a 100-ruble discount on their utility bills and drawings for non-cash prizes. The regional election commission, which denounced what it said amounted to bribing the voters, complained to prosecutors, but it acknowledged that the results of the election would not change.

More than 66 percent of Sakha's 560,000 registered voters came to the polls, Interfax said. Turnout had to be at least 50 percent for the vote to be valid.

Kuzma Okorokov, spokesman for the regional election commission, said the high turnout was due to the great civic responsibility felt by the Yakut people and unexpectedly good weather.

"It was around minus 30 degrees [Celsius] here, very warm by our standards," he said by telephone Sunday. "And our people took the election of the president very seriously."

Preliminary results will be announced Monday, but final results will not be released until Thursday because many ballots have to be delivered to Yakutsk, the regional capital, from remote settlements, he said.

Even though six other candidates were on the ballot, Shtyrov was not expected to have trouble getting the 50 percent of the vote necessary to win in the first round. He was nominated for the post by the outgoing governor, Nikolayev, and then blessed by the Kremlin.

"Shtyrov, who heads Alrosa, on which the republic depends entirely, could fear only voters' non-appearance at the polls," said Vladimir Pribylovsky, the president of the Panorama think tank. "That's why the republic's leadership, which backs Shtyrov, used its vast administrative resources to bring people out to vote."

Last week, the city of Yakutsk, where almost one-quarter of Sakha's voters live, said people who came to the polls would be offered a discount of 100 rubles ($3.30) on their family's utility bills. They also would be exempt from fines they have accumulated for late payments and be eligible for lotteries giving out non-cash prizes.

The head of the regional election commission, Vladimir Mikhailov, denounced the city's initiative as a violation of election law. Meeting Thursday with local elections officials, he told them to report any instances of such "bribery" to local prosecutors, Interfax reported.

Yakutsk officials were unfazed. They went ahead and handed out the discount coupons near polling stations Sundays.

"Although residents were warned that only couples would get the coupons at the polls, my wife got one without me going to vote," Oleg Yemelyanov, a journalist living in Yakutsk, said in telephone interview Sunday. "It is explicit bribery, but people took these coupons anyway."

Yakutsk officials, he said, explained their initiative by saying they wanted to avoid a repeat of last year's elections to the city legislature, which had to be held three times before the necessary 35 percent turnout was reached.

City officials handing out the discount coupons Sunday defended themselves from accusations of bribery by saying that residents did not have to vote to get the coupons.

"I don't ask whether or not you are voting. Our table just happens to be located next door [to the polling station]," Tatyana Bondarenko, a city official giving out coupons, told TV6 television.

Yakutsk authorities also held lotteries at 17 polling stations in the city, Interfax reported. Nobody picked up the telephone in the Yakutsk city administration on Sunday.

The regional election commission submitted several complaints to local prosecutors Sunday, spokesman Okorokov said. "Prosecutors will check the reported facts of such bribery and will punish the responsible officials," he said. "But none of the candidates will be disqualified for this."

No other serious violations of electoral law were reported, he said.

Yemelyanov, however, said the city of Yakutsk was decorated Sunday with huge posters presenting Shtyrov as the republic's new president. "These blue posters saying 'Shtyrov is our president' appeared on the streets Saturday night," the journalist said. "But nobody says anything; everybody understands that President Nikolayev is behind it."

The only remaining question is who will replace Shtyrov as head of Alrosa. "You'll know it in a couple of months," Alrosa spokesman Yury Beskakotov said Sunday in a telephone interview.