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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Volgograd Votes in Early Mayoral Poll

Itar-TassUnited Russia candidate Vasily Galushkin voting in Volgograd on Sunday.
Volgograd voted Sunday in an early election called to replace a mayor jailed on corruption charges, and the head of Chechnya's election commission gave his stamp of approval to the process.

The vote, one of the country's last significant votes before State Duma elections in December, came after a campaign tarnished by scandal and infighting among pro-Kremlin parties.

Ismail Baikhanov, the head of Chechnya's election commission, who was serving as an election observer, said the vote for 15 mayoral candidates was going smoothly. "We are not aware of any breaches," he said, Interfax reported.

Preliminary results were expected Monday.

United Russia is betting on Vasily Galushkin, a member of its faction in the State Duma. Three other members of United Russia who threw their hats in the ring were forced out of the party.

During the campaign, Galushkin was shown on local television swearing at local journalists because he did not like the way they filmed his campaign. The station, thought to be controlled by the acting mayor and another candidate in the race, Roland Kherianov, aired Galushkin's foul language together with offensive remarks he made about Volgograd Governor Nikolai Maksyuta that were secretly taped before the presentation.

Galushkin later sent a letter to the city's electoral commission, saying he would not participate in the election. He changed his mind within an hour. Local pundits suggested that United Russia's leadership in Moscow had decided to remove him but that Galushkin, after flinching, had summoned enough courage to return and regain United Russia's blessing.

Volgograd election officials allowed Galushkin back into the race, although such a move is technically illegal.

The early election was called after the incumbent mayor, Yevgeny Ishchenko, resigned in October. Ishchenko has been in custody since May 2006 and is currently on trial in a Volgograd court on charges of abuse of office, illegal participation in business activities and illegal possession of ammunition.

During the mayoral campaign, United Russia managed to unhorse the candidate backed by its emerging rival, A Just Russia, also a pro-Kremlin party.

Oleg Mikheyev, a local businessman and an election favorite, was removed from the race by a local court on April 28 for supposedly bribing voters. Sergei Mironov, the leader of A Just Russia and speaker of the Federation Council, accused local United Russia leaders of being behind the allegations.

Mikheyev appealed to the Volgograd region's top court, which only upheld the lower court's decision on May 15 -- too late for him to appeal to a higher court.

United Russia is doing everything possible to avoid a repeat of its loss of the Samara mayor's office and of a majority in the Stavropol regional legislature to A Just Russia earlier this year, said Nikolai Petrov, a regional politics analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Anyone -- even Mikheyev if he were not associated with A Just Russia -- would be good for United Russia in Volgograd," Petrov said.

He said the number of candidates -- 15 -- was unusually high. "In a situation where governors are no longer elected, elections in the big cities have become the only way aspiring candidates have a chance of being noticed by Moscow and eventually being dragged into big politics," he said.

Rostislav Turovsky, an analyst with the Agency for Regional Information, predicted before Sunday's vote that the high number of candidates would not necessarily translate into a high turnout. He said the scandals surrounding Galushkin and the removal of Mikheyev had disoriented voters and would perhaps discourage them from voting.

This is not a problem for the candidates after the United Russia-led Duma scrapped turnout requirements and the option to vote "against all" from the ballot. By 2 p.m., 23.32 percent of the city's 762,000 registered voters had cast their ballots, Interfax reported.