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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Underdog Markova Battles for Votes

MTAnna Markova
Like her former boss, Vladimir Yakovlev, Anna Markova hopes to step up to lead St. Petersburg from the vice governor's post.

Like Yakovlev, who beat liberal Anatoly Sobchak in a closely contested 1996 election, she started the campaign as underdog, facing a candidate backed by President Vladimir Putin, a fellow St. Petersburger who served with Yakovlev in Sobchak's administration.

But this time around Putin appears close to settling his old score with Yakovlev -- even though voters narrowly failed to elect his envoy, Valentina Matviyenko, in the first round of voting on Sept. 21.

Getting just 15.9 percent of the votes cast in the first round, narrowly ahead of "Against All Candidates," Markova can only win Sunday if she garners the support of all the defeated first-round candidates and breaks through voter apathy that led to a turnout of just 29 percent.

But Yabloko official Igor Artemyev, a former city finance chairman under Yakovlev who later switched his allegiance to become a staunch critic, has ruled out switching his party's support to Markova in the second round of voting.

"Markova ... bears responsibility for all the ugliness committed [by Yakovlev's administration]," Artemyev was quoted by Yabloko's press service as saying last week. "She is a direct heiress of Yakovlev."

Markova entered the gubernatorial race after Yakovlev's early resignation in early June. The governor was kicked upstairs to become a deputy prime minister, making way for Matviyenko, Putin's favored candidate.

In a reference to Matviyenko, Markova complained of "pressure" in her declaration speech to the city's Legislative Assembly, and said it was "no secret" that "one candidate has already been campaigning for two months."

"I understand [that] nobody will say 'hello' to me," she said. "The media will not show me, according to an order [given to them], my allies are going to suffer. Even now I am already threatened. Some promise [to organize] a car accident, others to put me under a steamroller."

Leonid Kesselman, a political analyst at the sociology department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said the only way Markova could raise her profile with St. Petersburg voters was to champion local democracy.

"What else could she do?" he said. "If one candidate tries to strangle democracy, another should defend it. She was forced into this. Her supporters are communist-oriented people."

But while Markova has tried to portray herself as a champion of local democracy against a Kremlin-imposed candidate and a heavy-handed dirty tricks campaign, it is her record as Yakovlev's loyal lieutenant at City Hall that voters may well judge her on.

Serving as a City Hall official under Yakovlev, from 1999 as a district head and from March 2002 as vice governor and chair of the assembly's administration committee, Markova is relying on local support to give her a chance against her high-profile opponent.

The plain-speaking Yakovlev was a popular choice with a frustrated electorate as governor in 1996, in contrast to high-minded law professor Sobchak.

While his predecessor was known for liberal ideals and persuasive oratory, Yakovlev was more focused on practical local issues, and was little known outside the city before his election as governor.

But under Yakovlev, St. Petersburg's promised economic regeneration program failed to materialize, as the city struggled to shrug off its image as the country's organized crime capital.

Yakovlev hoped to persuade the assembly to allow him to run for a third term as governor in 2004, but after a shift in December 2002 Legislative Assembly elections undermined his power base, his detractors appeared to gain ground.

The campaign against Yakovlev's administration focused on a series of scandals that centered on alleged misuse of some of the $300 million earmarked for the city's anniversary celebrations.

In what later appeared to be preparation for the early election, the campaign against Yakovlev coincided with Matviyenko's appointment as presidential envoy and her prominent role in the city's 300th anniversary celebrations.

But even if Matviyenko wins second time around, Markova casts doubt on whether her influential rival will be able to wrest resources from central government to rebuild the city's crumbling infrastructure.

"It is time to stop believing that the federal budget will keep helping St. Petersburg, as it did for the jubilee," Markova said in an interview on her official web site. "The country gave us an unbelievable amount of money, 40 billion rubles [$1.3 billion]. Let's face the truth: The celebration is finished.

"The president and the government have a truck-full of problems -- military reform, collapsing communal services, cities getting frozen. That is why anyone who promises pots of gold from the capital is a liar."

Markova was born in Leningrad in 1955, into a family tracing its ancestry to tsarist army officers. In 1979, she graduated as a librarian and went to work for the city police, where she continued her education, graduating from the judicial department of the Interior Ministry's Higher School and gaining a master's degree in teaching science.

Working her way up through the ranks over 20 years, where colleagues remember her as a demanding, but competent administrator, Markova wound up as head of the Kolpinsky district police department, before leaving the force in 1999 to join Yakovlev's team as head of the city's Frunzensky district.

But according to Olga Pokrovskaya, a Yabloko member of the assembly, Markova's main attributes as head of the administration committee were loyalty to Yakovlev and her ability to block reforms proposed by the governor's opponents, rather than listening to democratic debate.

"The main thing this committee did was to back the City Hall line and veto more than 60 bills," Pokrovskaya said.

"City Hall was never interested in passing new laws, but rather in issuing orders so that it decided everything by itself, without asking anybody else's opinion," she said.