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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Seleznyov Battles to St. Pete Victory

ST. PETERSBURG -- In a no-holds-barred battle between political heavyweights of the last State Duma, outgoing Speaker Gennady Seleznyov beat out Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada to win a St. Petersburg single-mandate seat.

Seleznyov, whose Russia's Rebirth-Party of Life bloc polled just 1.9 percent nationwide, made it back into the Duma with 47.3 percent against Khakamada's 26.7 percent, according to preliminary results announced by the St. Petersburg elections committee.

The two were slugging it out in St. Petersburg Polling District No. 209, the area represented by liberal deputy Galina Starovoitova until her killing in November 1998.

For Khakamada, the co-leader of the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, the loss was a further blow after her party narrowly failed to pass the 5 percent hurdle to enter the Duma.

Going into the election, Khakamada appeared to have a powerful endorsement from Starovoitova's sister, Olga, who said she would be a "worthy choice."

"People are not replaceable. But Khakamada is the closest to Galina in all the district," she said.

Khakamada, previously elected from District No. 207, had switched polling districts to run in Starovoitova's old district.

But Leonid Romankov, a St. Petersburg SPS member, said that Khakamada had "overestimated the democratic spirit of the district."

For Seleznyov, a Communist Party nominee as speaker in 1995 who parted company with the party last year after a dispute over resigning Duma posts, the win represented something of a personal comeback.

Even SPS activists, such as Romankov, ceded that Seleznyov's campaign had been "very active," delivering newspapers and leaflets to district residents, while Khakamada's campaign had been less high profile.

"Seleznyov grew up in that district, he knows people there -- and he used administrative resources as well," Romankov said.

Seleznyov also made efforts to tap into an unusual source of votes -- Russian expatriates in the United States, whose ballots were added to those of the potential 468,000 voters in District No. 209. To woo an estimated 40,000 emigre Russians, Seleznyov's campaign even took out an ad in New York's Novoye Russkoye Slovo and handed out flyers and calendars.

But other canvassing methods -- the alleged use of black PR and blackmail -- also became an issue in the campaign.

On Dec. 2, Khakamada's team reported two people to the police for trying to extort $100,000, in return for not releasing flyers with what they said was libelous material.

Police detained the suspects as they were delivering 100,000 of the flyers to Khakamada's campaign headquarters, and opened an investigation two days later.

The atmosphere surrounding the election became literally darker Sunday, as around 40 apartment blocks were plunged into darkness by a power outage, prompting accusations of dirty tricks from both candidates.

"The headquarters of my main rival probably realized that she would not win and made it its task to break up the elections," Interfax reported Seleznyov as saying.

But Khakamada said any blackout would be directed against her. "Unfortunately, any outage of electricity on this day plays against me, because then people tend to blame [Unified Energy Systems chief Anatoly] Chubais," Khakamada said.

On Monday, like the rest of the SPS leadership, Khakamada was reported to be mulling her future plans outside the Duma.

"We're not going to comment on this result," said Yelena Dikun, an SPS spokeswoman in St. Petersburg. "We know only one thing: Today we woke up in a different country."