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Regional election could reflect on Russia’s reforms

June 29, 1997

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia (AP) _ Residents of Nizhny Novgorod voted Sunday for a new governor to replace Boris Nemtsov, who turned the Volga River region into a showcase of economic reform before joining Boris Yeltsin’s government.

The top contenders were the reform-minded Nizhny Novgorod mayor, Ivan Sklyarov, and Communist-backed Gennady Khodyrev _ a familiar scenario in recent regional elections pitting opponents of Yeltsin against reformists.

Hard-liners formed an unlikely alliance to support Khodyrev, who was backed not only by Communists but by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s ultranationalists and other groups.

An independent poll last week, cited by the English-language daily Moscow Times, showed 51 percent of respondents supporting Sklyarov, also backed by Nemtsov, and 33 percent backing Khodyrev. Television journalist Nina Zvereva came in third with 9 percent.

Polls opened at 6 a.m. and closed at 10 p.m. (4 p.m. EDT). Initial results were expected Monday.

A victory for Khodyrev would indicate disillusionment with national reforms carried out by Nemtsov and Anatoly Chubais, both deputy prime ministers in Yeltsin’s government.

``If the opposition wins, the whole soap bubble would explode,″ Khodyrev, the Communist candidate, told Russia’s NTV network.

Nemtsov, who joined Yeltsin’s team in March, leaped into the national spotlight as a dynamic regional governor who got help from the World Bank and other groups for local projects in privatization and enterprise reform.

The election in Nizhny Novgorod drew Moscow’s political heavies into the fray.

Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov twice came to rally support for Khodyrev, 54, who was the party’s final first secretary when Nizhny Novgorod was known as Gorky, a closed Soviet city.

Moscow’s reformist Mayor Yuri Luzhkov also came to show his, and Yeltsin’s, support for Sklyarov, 49, who had worked closely with Nemtsov when he was governor.

The winner of Sunday’s race will get a seat in parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council. A proliferation of independent politicians in that chamber makes it difficult to determine whether the opposition of Yeltsin’s administration holds sway.

According to ITAR-Tass, local observers do not expect any candidate to get the 50 percent of votes needed for a victory and that a run-off will be held later. The two candidates with the most votes will take part in the second round.

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