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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign Shenanigans in St. Pete

ST. PETERSBURG -- A creative assortment of fake leaflets and the discovery of an illegal printing press in a concert hall have sullied the campaign for the Legislative Assembly in St. Petersburg, a city with a history of dirty campaign tricks.

In the leaflets, one candidate tells voters that as a lawyer he lies even to friends, a second candidate proposes giving Kaliningrad back to Germany and a third threatens to kill himself if he is not re-elected.

The leaflets, ranging from the ridiculous to the offensive, are purported to be from candidates from a bloc formed by Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, or SPS. The two parties have joined forces in St. Petersburg to challenge supporters of Governor Vladimir Yakovlev in next Sunday's election.

Last week on the same day a district prosecutor's office opened an investigation into the leaflets, police raided an illegal printing press in the building of the State Capella concert hall.

The local station of state-run Rossia television showed the director of the Capella, Yevgeny Kolchin, trying to bar journalists from a room containing piles of leaflets and printing equipment. Kolchin used to head the city administration's culture committee and remains close to Yakovlev.

Police spokeswoman Yulia Nezhivenko said Monday that leaflets found in the Capella promoted the candidacy of Vladimir Yeryomenko, a deputy in the Legislative Assembly who is an outspoken ally of the governor. She said they were real leaflets but printed illegally, because they bore the address of another printing house, Omega.

"There are various reasons why Yeryomenko could have wanted to have his leaflets printed there," Nezhivenko said. "One reason could be the lower cost. He could have declared a higher cost by allegedly going through the Omega printing house and pocketing the difference."

Police said Yeryomenko's leaflets were the only ones found in last Tuesday's raid, but they did not exclude the possibility that other leaflets, including the fake ones, also were printed there.

The SPS-Yabloko bloc appealed to the Prosecutor General's Office last week to put a stop to the campaign violations.

"The number of different examples of violations has reached such a level that we cannot remain silent any longer," said Stanislav Yeremeyev, who is leading the bloc along with the head of the Yabloko faction in the Legislative Assembly, Mikhail Amosov. "We have no choice but to answer with legal action."

At a news conference last week, Yeremeyev produced examples of some of the fake leaflets making their way around the city.

"I am cunning and perfidious, because I am a lawyer. ... I lie to everyone, even friends," reads a leaflet bearing the name and photo of Vitaly Martynenko, the SPS+Yabloko candidate in the 30th district. "Am I foolish enough to engage in philanthropy? ... I am your only candidate! And I look so handsome on these posters!"

In one leaflet, called "I cannot live without being a deputy," Amosov purportedly threatens to commit suicide if he fails to be re-elected in the 10th district.

"I am scared to think that someone else could take my place in the Legislative Assembly," the flyer says. "I have made a firm decision. If you, district electors, do not support my candidacy in the Dec. 8 elections, I will commit suicide. I am not afraid of death."

In a second leaflet, Amosov is quoted as saying "Aslan Maskhadov is a civilized politician" and proposes, on behalf of the SPS-Yabloko bloc, to "build houses for Chechen refugees in St. Petersburg," financed by the city budget.

Three separate flyers distributed in the name of Yabloko+SPS candidates call for an end to the war in Chechnya and recognition of an independent Ichkeria, the bloc said.

Another flyer, this one targeting Martynenko, has a photo of the candidate caught in a gun's sights and says "Kill the Democrat Inside Yourself!"

A criminal investigation related to the leaflets was opened Tuesday by the Kirov district prosecutor's office after two students were detained on Nov. 22 while distributing unauthorized flyers.

Publishing houses also are unhappy about the leaflets and filed a separate complaint with the prosecutor's office, saying their trademarks were used illegally on some of them.

SPS+Yabloko representatives say similarities among the various leaflets suggest they were commissioned by the same people, and they put the blame on the "third-term party," referring to politicians who support Yakovlev in his attempt to run for a third term.

Candidates for the Legislative Assembly who support Yakovlev tend not to belong to a political party. Those asked about the leaflet scandal last week refused to comment, saying it was too close to the election.

City Hall, which said the campaign was proceeding "normally," denied any involvement in the production of the fake leaflets.

"Today it's snowing, and SPS+Yabloko will say it's the governor's fault. If the temperature drops, it will also be the governor's fault," said Alexander Afanasyev, Yakovlev's spokesman.

He said "SPS+Yabloko is not a serious organization" and criticized its campaign and the content of its leaflets. "Everything they promise in their leaflets is already being carried out by the city administration, such as construction of the metro and of the ring road."

The city election commission has played down the SPS+Yabloko bloc's complaints.

"There have been a number of unlawful flyers and articles since the beginning of the campaign, but in comparison to previous years, the situation is quite calm," Rita Malova, the commission's spokeswoman, said in an interview last Wednesday.

On Monday she said that more than 150 complaints of campaign violations have been filed at the City Court, most of them on Friday. But Malova put a positive spin on the high number of complaints, saying "it indicates a better respect for the law than before."

Most of the complaints were about vote-buying, financial abuses and other violations of electoral law, she said.

None of the 419 candidates running for the Legislative Assembly's 50 seats has been removed from the ballot so far.

Arkady Kramarev, a legislator who also served as St. Petersburg police chief from 1991 to 1994, pointed out that the main reason for the rush of complaints on Friday was that under a new federal elections law, which came into force June 15, complaints are to be filed not later than seven days before an election. Kramarev said he doubted it would make campaigns any cleaner.

"What is going to happen is that most violations will happen in the last week of the election campaign, when candidates cannot be excluded anymore," he said.

"I would say that this year's campaign is slightly cleaner than four years ago, but there have been a considerable amount of violations since the beginning of the campaign."."