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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nizhny Vote Descends Into Orgy of Filth

Voters went to the polls in Nizhny Novgorod last Sunday to elect their next mayor. But with front-runner Andrei Klimentyev struck from the ballot the day before for campaign finance violations, Nizhny's voters resembled steak lovers in a vegetarian restaurant. As a result, only 29 percent of eligible voters turned out, barely enough for the election to be valid. And nearly one-third cast their ballots for "none of the above."

The campaign in Nizhny literally wreaked havoc on the city. In the run-up to the election Nizhny's hot water supply broke down, leading to a 75 percent rise in new hepatitis cases. In Nizhny's historical city center, whole blocks were destroyed by fire. And the city's sewer system was hooked up directly to the mass media.

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That was probably a fortuitous move, because if all the muck and mud slung around Nizhny before the election had flowed into the Volga instead of the airwaves, the city would have been washed away.

Despite what you might expect, Klimentyev -- whose nickname is Pryshch, or Pimple -- was not the main muck-raker. That distinction belonged to two other candidates: State Duma Deputy Vadim Bulavinov, backed by Sergei Kiriyenko, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District; and Mayor Yury Lebedev, backed by businessman Dmitry Savelyev. Lebedev and Bulavinov finished one-two in the first round, with Bulavinov edging out "none of the above" by one-half of 1 percent.

The real story of the election was the war of words between Kiriyenko and Savelyev, former partners who have since become arch-enemies. They accused one another of everything under the sun, from the lack of hot water to the fires in the city center.

The highlight of the campaign was a videotape of Bulavinov, broadcast by a television station belonging to Savelyev. The tape shows Bulavinov soliciting money from a local criminal. Five minutes before Bulavinov's arrival, that same criminal had said that if Klimentyev were to win the election, he would be assassinated by order of the Kremlin.

In the end, the citizens of Nizhny turned on both candidates, and Klimentyev, convicted in 1998 on charges of bribery, forgery and embezzlement, emerged as the front-runner. All of this shows that if those in power are going to behave like the Sheriff of Nottingham, the people will vote for Robin Hood.

Robin Hood, a.k.a. Pimple, stood out from the establishment candidates because he didn't drag anyone through the mud. He simply promised -- as set forth in his campaign program -- to pay city workers 10,000 rubles a month and to give young families apartments costing $120 per square meter. In criminal slang this is called playing them for suckers, though in Russian politics it's known as a populist election campaign.

Klimentyev was already elected mayor of Nizhny four years ago. However, the election was declared invalid, and the mayor known as Pimple was sent to prison.

This mayoral election could turn into a real headache for Kiriyenko. The whole institution of presidential envoys was created by Vladimir Putin with one goal in mind: to control the gubernatorial elections. To date his envoys haven't had much success.

In October 2000, sitting governor of the Kursk region, Alexander Rutskoi, was removed from the ballot. The idea was that bumping Rutskoi would hand the election to the presidential envoy's hand-picked candidate, FSB General Viktor Surzhikov. A Communist, Alexander Mikhailov, won instead. Last June, Viktor Cherepkov was thrown out of the governor's race in the Primorye region. The presidential envoy's man, Gennady Apanasenko, proceeded to lose to businessman Sergei Darkin.

Vladimir Putin's envoys are basically matchmakers. They are meant to find suitable matches for the voters and, like a good father, to get the voters to the altar. But instead of the altar, the voters get done outside in the bushes.

Yulia Latynina is author and host of "Yest Mneniye" on TVS.