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St. Petersburg Election Extended Because of Low Turnout

March 20, 1994

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) _ St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak ordered that polls in Russia’s second- largest city stay open Monday after low turnout threatened to invalidate local elections.

Low turnout was also reported in 14 other Russian regions where local and regional elections were held Sunday, in a repeat of the battle between reformers and hard-liners that marked December’s parliamentary elections.

In Kamchatka, in far eastern Russia, only 12.5 percent of registered voters turned out by midday, the regional election commission said. Turnout ranged from 6 percent to 50 percent in other regions, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

New elections likely will have to be held in many parts of the Ural Mountains region of Perm and the Siberian region of Omsk, Tass said.

At least 25 percent of registered voters had to cast ballots to validate Sunday’s elections. In elections in five other regions last week, barely 25 percent of the electorate voted.

In St. Petersburg, Sobchak signed a decree ordering polling stations to stay open throughout the day Monday. His deputy, Valery Malyshev, told St. Petersburg Television that turnout was about 22 percent as polls closed at 10 p.m.

The television station broadcast appeals for voters to come to the polls Monday.

In St. Petersburg, until now a pro-reform bastion, Communists, democratic reformers and nationalists are vying for seats in the City Assembly.

Under Sobchak, a pro-Western reformer elected in 1991 on President Boris Yeltsin’s coattails, the city has been a leader in privatizing state property.

But Communists and nationalists are poised to take advantage of confusion and rivalry in the democratic-reformist camp. Voter indifference might help these groups, which are generally better organized than reformers.

Communists were also expected to do well in the Smolensk and Orel regions in central Russia, where discontent is high among workers in aging industries and on unprofitable collective farms.

St. Petersburg voters must choose among 754 candidates running for the 50- seat City Assembly. About 200 are independents; the rest are drawn from a stew of 16 parties.

Only three parties are easily identifiable: ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party; the Communists; and Great Russia, a nationalist coalition. The rest are new and sport vague names like Beloved City and All Petersburg.

Zhirinovsky’s party won nearly a quarter of the vote in parliamentary elections; the Communists got about 11 percent. The main pro-Yeltsin bloc, Russia’s Choice, won only 15 percent.

In St. Petersburg, reformers did better. Russia’s Choice got 26 percent to Zhirinovsky’s 17.5 percent and the Communists’ 9 percent.