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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

3 Regions Overwhelmingly Agree to Merge

Three sparsely populated regions in Western Siberia have overwhelmingly agreed in a weekend referendum to merge to create Russia's second-largest region, according to preliminary poll results released Monday.

The proposed unification of Krasnoyarsk and the Taimyr and Evenkia autonomous districts is in line with a Kremlin drive to consolidate its grip on the country and reduce the number of regions from 89 to about 30 to 50.

More than 92 percent of voters in Krasnoyarsk approved the merger in the referendum Sunday, as did about 70 percent of voters in Taimyr and 79 percent in Evenkia, Interfax reported.

Authorities of all three regions took pains to get out the vote amid worries that turnout might fall below the required minimum of 50 percent. Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Khloponin, Taimyr Governor Oleg Budargin and Evenkia Governor Boris Zolotaryov traveled extensively in their regions, often going from village to village, Kommersant reported.

Izvestia said that President Vladimir Putin courted voters by, among other things, signing a decree that promised Kremlin backing for 200 billion rubles in investment in the merged territory.

Voter turnout in Krasnoyarsk and Taimyr was about 53 percent, while 73 percent of voters participated in Evenkia, Interfax reported.

"The publicity drive was just excellent. People were promised a better life and new streets and hospitals," said Maxim Dianov, director of the Institute for Regional Problems. "People are expecting a lot from this merger."

Krasnoyarsk, which is home to Norilsk Nickel and a giant RusAl aluminum smelter, is a net contributor to the state budget, while the federal government spends 2 billion rubles per year in subsidies to support Taimyr and Evenkia.

Krasnoyarsk has a population of 2.9 million, while Taimyr has 37,000 people and Evenkia has 17,713. The three were part of the same region in Soviet times but were divided by the post-Soviet government to give autonomy to the native people of Taimyr and Evenkia.

After the merger, which is to be completed by Jan. 1, 2007, Taimyr and Evenkia will lose their representatives in the Federation Council and the right to be directly represented there.

The merged region would be the largest after the Sakha republic.

Sunday's referendum came after the Perm and Komi regions voted to merge in December 2003. That merger has yet to be completed.