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St Peterburg Times, March 23, 2004

Few Municipalities Draw Enough Votes

By Vladimir Kovalev

St. Petersburg voters elected only 30 of 63 municipal councils in March 14 elections, and just 18 councils have a full complement of members.

In 92 St. Petersburg districts extra elections are to be held in the next 8 months, the Union of Democratic Forces SPS and Yabloko reported Friday.

Only 437 deputies were elected of the 835 candidates who participated in the elections, the liberal parties, which united for the the municipal elections, said.

The City Election Commission has indirectly confirmed the results, but said the official results would not be announced until this week because it was still processing votes cast in the presidential elections, which were held the same day.

"I've heard in Moscow things are not that overwhelming there either," said Alexander Gnyotov, head of the City Election Commission in an interview Monday.

"I'd say the results look quite good," he said. "Look at the history. In 2000 there were just two local councils that were formed completely. This time we overfulfilled our plan."

Only a third of seats were filled when 1,300 candidates contested the municipal elections in 2000. The number of seats on these small local councils, which have almost no money or power, varies from district to district, but if only one place is left unfilled, the entire election in that district must be rerun.

A law passed by the Legislative Assembly in December 1996 would have replaced the 21 appointed authorities with 21 elected councils. But City Hall then pushed a radical re-districting law through the assembly, slicing the city into 111 electoral subdistricts, each with a population of 20,000 to 50,000 people.

The main tasks carried out by these councils include the upkeep of flower beds, building playgrounds, buying equipment for local hospitals and polyclinics, and developing the outdoor markets and kiosk areas that are so much a feature of the city.

Boris Vishnevsky, a member of Yabloko faction, blamed City Hall's manipulations for generating white-elephant councils.

"It was done in such a way right from the beginning when the system of local councils was approved," he said Monday in an interview. "They have no money, no influence, no power, it's just a decoration to show to Europe that we have a system of local government."

This year the city budget has allocated 212 million rubles ($7.44 million) to finance the elected municipal councils.

Election observers said the polls were successful in 30 districts only because voters came to participate in the presidential elections. Whether new elections will succeed is questionable because city law requires a minimum turnout of 20 percent for the vote to be valid.

"I was surprised, to be honest, to see even the kind a result that we got," Vishnevsky said "If local elections are combined with presidential elections the protest vote is quite high."

Yabloko and SPS offered 20 candidates each for the elections, 25 of which were elected in districts No. 18 and No. 19 giving the liberals a majority on both of the local councils.

Most candidates ran as independents, Vishnevsky said.

See also:

the original at www.stpetetimes.com

Regional elections 2004

St Peterburg Times, March 23, 2004

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