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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kalmykia Vote Goes Into Runoff

ELISTA, Kalmykia -- The presidential election in Kalmykia was forced into a runoff Monday after vote counts showed that none of the 11 candidates managed to top the 50 percent mark in the previous day's poll.

The two leading candidates who will face off in the second round are the incumbent, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who won 47.3 percent of the vote, and Moscow banker Baatr Shondzhiyev, who came in a distant second with 13.6 percent.

Both Ilyumzhinov and Shondzhiyev claim to have powerful backers in the Kremlin, although President Vladimir Putin has not weighed in on the race.

The winner of the second round will become president for a five-year term. For Ilyumzhinov, a flamboyant businessman and autocratic ruler who has headed Kalmykia since 1993, this would be his third term.

Shondzhiyev said he believed the other opposition candidates would rally around him to ensure a victory against Ilyumzhinov.

But a spokesman for third-place candidate Nikolai Ochirov, who won 12.8 percent of the vote, made it clear that those who had not made it into the runoff were still weighing their options.

"We have had lots of proposals," Andrei Goryayev, Ochirov's campaign manager, said by telephone. "We cannot reject anything out of hand or make rash decisions."

Critics accuse Ilyumzhinov of destroying Kalmykia's economy, giving special favors to relatives and loyalists and suppressing dissent, sometimes with force. Ilyumzhinov denies wrongdoing.

Throughout the election campaign and voting, opposition candidates cited numerous violations favoring Ilyumzhinov. But Yelena Dubrovina, a visiting member of the Central Elections Commission, said the violations were not grave or widespread enough to change the election results.

CEC head Alexander Veshnyakov, who visited Elista last week to monitor preparations for the poll, said in televised remarks that the main violations to look out for in the runoff would concern campaign funding. He said the second round of voting could be held either next Sunday or Nov. 3, pending a decision by local election officials.