Putin ally wins two elections at once

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An ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Monday won two simultaneous elections, each one with more than 90 percent of the vote, on her way to the country's third most powerful seat.

Valentina Matviyenko, the helmet-haired governor of the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg and the surrounding region, won a regional ballot in which voters were lured Soviet-style with cheap food and concerts, Russian media wrote.

While technically a demotion, her new post on the regional council clears the way for her appointment as upper house of parliament speaker -- the number three position following the ruling tandem -- and the most powerful woman politician.

The previous speaker of the Federation Council was a Kremlin critic who was recalled by a group of Saint Petersburg local lawmakers for speaking out against the ruling authorities.

Matviyenko won "93.7 percent of votes in the Petrovsky district and 94.5 percent of votes in the Krasnenkaya Rechka, according to the latest information," the local electoral commission told AFP on Monday.

"I am sincerely grateful to the people for expressing in this way their attitude to me and the results of eight years of work," Matviyenko said in a televised speech.

But Russian media questioned the tactics used to ensure the victory of Matviyenko -- who has angered residents with poor snow and ice clearing and her support for a controversial skyscraper plan while city governor.

The announcement that Matviyenko was to stand in the districts was only made after registration of candidates had closed, meaning none of her opponents could stand against her, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

In one district, the authorities "created a holiday atmosphere" with concerts, free medical checkups and a cut-price cafe, the Fontanka.ru website reported.

The tactic was reminiscent of the Soviet era, when authorities laid on buffets at polling stations to ensure a high turnout.

In the other district, cadets at a military academy, where the head of the city's parliament's United Russia faction once taught, created a record turnout, the Kommersant newspaper alleged.

Candidates are allowed to stand in two district elections under Russian law.

Matviyenko was widely reviled this winter as poorly cleared snow and icicles made central streets impassable and killed several people.

She also backed a controversial plan by gas giant Gazprom to build a glass skyscraper in the UNESCO protected city, built by Peter the Great. The plan was eventually thrown out.

Medvedev in June said he backed Matviyenko's nomination, calling her an "absolutely successful governor."

© 2011 AFP

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