Russian Olympic city elects mayor in Kremlin test

27th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The vote is a test for the openness promised by President Dmitry Medvedev, whose official second residence is in the resort on the palm-tree lined Black Sea coast.

Sochi -- Voters in the Russian city of Sochi, which will hold the 2014 Winter Olympics, on Sunday voted for a new mayor in an election being closely watched by the Kremlin and marked by opposition charges of foul play.

The vote is a test for the openness promised by President Dmitry Medvedev, whose official second residence is in the resort on the palm-tree lined Black Sea coast.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who regularly goes skiing at Krasnaya Polyana, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) away, played a key role in lobbying to bring the Winter Olympics to Sochi.

And Putin's United Russia party candidate, Anatoly Pakhomov, the current mayor, was widely expected to beat five rivals lined up against him even though Medvedev portrayed the Sochi vote as "a full-scale political battle" which was "good for democracy" in an interview with opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta last week.

The mayor has to oversees the preparations for Winter Games, which will see an estimated 12 billion dollars invested in the Sochi region before 2014.

The Kremlin appoints regional leaders so mayoral elections provide one of the few chances to participate in Russia's moribund political life. At the start there were 20 candidates to be Sochi's mayor, including a porn star, a ballet dancer, a press magnate and a former KGB agent.

But most gradually dropped out and opposition candidates who remained complained about irregularities during the Sochi campaign including the refusal of local media to run their political advertisements.

They said their vote monitors had been prevented from doing their work -- charges the election committee denied -- and some opposition candidates were suspicious at the large number of people who had voted early.

Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister who is now a prominent Kremlin critic, accused Russian authorities of pressuring media outlets to deny him media coverage and creating an atmosphere of "terror and fear."

According to official figures, the turnout was about 38 percent of the electorate.

These votes would be pocketed by the ruling party, alleged Yury Dzagania, a communist mayoral candidate.

While there has been debate about whether Pakhomov will get the necessary 50 percent plus one vote to avoid a second round, voters in the street had little doubt about who would win.

"Anatoly Nikolayevich will get the majority because he had real support from the president, prime minister and our governor (Alexander) Tkachyov," said Anna Druzhinina, a university teacher.

Druzhinina said she had voted communist out of principle, but she understood why people would support the acting mayor. "Who gets support from the supreme authorities will be of most use for the city," she said.

Other voters appeared to agree. "I voted for Pakhomov," Vladimir Karpenko said of the pro-Kremlin candidate, calling him "a sensible man".

Russia won the right to host the Winter Olympics in 2007, with strong support from Putin, who was then president, in beating the South Korean city of Pyeongchang.

Russia will have to upgrade the Soviet-era infrastructure and build new facilities from scratch.

Preliminary results were expected after 10:00 pm local time (1800 GMT), said the elections committee.


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