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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Sweeps Nizhny Election

Nizhny Novgorod's former Communist boss Gennady Khodyrev was declared the winner Monday in the region's gubernatorial election — and he promptly announced that he was suspending his membership in the Communist Party.

Khodyrev, 59, took about 60 percent of the vote in a runoff Sunday, far ahead of the 28 percent garnered by incumbent Governor Ivan Sklyarov. Voter turnout was about 38 percent, and 10 percent voted against the two candidates.

In accepting his victory, Khodyrev, who most recently served as a Communist deputy in the State Duma, said that although he had run on the Communist ticket, he was handing in his party card in order to serve as "a uniting governor."

"Considering the large political divisions in Nizhny Novgorod, I believe it would be proper to suspend my party membership for my term in office," Khodyrev told journalists, according to Interfax.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov had given his blessing, he said.

Khodyrev said that in suspending his membership he was following the example of President Vladimir Putin and Sergei Kiriyenko, the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District. Neither belongs to a political party.

Pro-Kremlin lawmakers and the presidential administration, which had both expressed concern last week about Khodyrev taking office, welcomed his decision to give up his Communist membership and said they could work with him.

Kiriyenko said in televised remarks Monday that Khodyrev's party membership had been the only obstacle to their chances of working together, adding that years ago Khodyrev had helped him get enrolled at the prestigious Plekhanov Financial Academy in Moscow.

Boris Nemtsov, who now heads the Union of Right Forces faction and warned of a "red threat" to the region last week, applauded Khodyrev's decision. He said Khodyrev had promised him after the first round to suspend his membership if he won.

The pro-Kremlin Unity party also pledged Monday to give Khodyrev its support.

Interfax quoted an anonymous source in the presidential administration as saying that there were no plans to move Kiriyenko's office out of Nizhny Novgorod, a threat that an unidentified Kremlin source had promised last week to make good on if Khodyrev won.

Analysts had said the threat had been an attempt by the Kremlin to shore up support for the incumbent governor.

Sergei Ivanenko, a Yabloko leader in the Duma, said the election illustrated the Kremlin-backed policy to impose "dirigible democracy" in Russia to be run by a "private union of communists and bureaucrats," Interfax reported.

Few expected that Khodyrev had a chance in the gubernatorial election when the first round of voting took place July 15. He surprised political analysts — and even himself — by taking the lead in that vote, analysts said.

"He didn't make any distinct statement for a week afterward," said Rustam Bikmetov of the Nizhny Novgorod Research Fund.

Khodyrev on Monday rejected talk that he was an outsider who had trumped the gubernatorial ticket.

"I have never thought of myself as a dark horse," he said on NTV television. "My victory isn't [a sign of] the people's political preferences. They were choosing between Khodyrev and Sklyarov, and they preferred my personal experience and deeper understanding of their problems."

Nizhny Novgorod has fallen from the high-flying times it enjoyed in the 1990s as an investment haven. The region was a showcase for Russia's liberal reforms under then-Governor Boris Nemtsov in the mid-1990s and was the country's No. 3 region for investment after Moscow and St. Petersburg. Under Sklyarov's leadership, however, the region fell to 13th place.

"The region stagnated for four years. Of course, it hurt the well-being of the population and, naturally, nobody liked it," Khodyrev told NTV.

Analysts agreed Monday that voters had not picked Khodyrev for his Communist ideology. But some cast doubt on whether he would be able to stage an economic revival in his region.

"The elections in Nizhny Novgorod illustrate that the political model of reformists fighting against conservatives is already in the past," said Nikolai Petrov of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "The difference between Sklyarov and Khodyrev … is not ideological — it is a matter of personalities."

"Khodyrev, with all his pluses, remains a man from the past and has never appeared as a market defender," said Leonid Smirnyagi, a professor at Moscow State University. "He is a Communist with a human face."

Khodyrev, a native of Krasnodar, took his first job at the age of 16 as a lathe operator at the Gorky Machine-Building Plant. Later, in 1966, he graduated from the Leningrad Mechanical Institute with a degree in mechanics.

He immediately began his climb up the Communist ladder, starting in the Gorky Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. Gorky was renamed Nizhny Novgorod after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1983, Khodyrev was brought into the Central Committee of the Communist Party to work in its administrative department.

From 1988 to 1991 he hold both the post of regional Communist Party chief and the chairman of Nizhny Novgorod's legislative assembly.

President Boris Yeltsin sacked Khodyrev in December 1991 and named Nemtsov as acting Nizhny Novgorod governor. Stripped of his power, Khodyrev found refuge as head of the region's trade and industrial chamber.

Khodyrev was elected a Duma deputy in 1995 and served as a Communist. He ran in Nizhny Novgorod's gubernatorial election in 1997 but lost to Sklyarov with 42 percent of the vote.

The next year, he accepted an offer by then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to serve as anti-monopoly minister. He left the post when Primakov was fired in 1999 and was re-elected to the Duma a few months later, in December.