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St. Petersburg Election Campaign In Full Swing

  • Brian Whitmore

St Petersburg, May 9 (RFE/RL) - St Petersburg's gubernatorial election campaign is in full swing.

The local state-run tv station (Channel 5), earlier criticized for excessively favoring incumbent Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, has begun allotting each of the 18 candidates free air time (in 22.5 minute segments).

Sobchak, opened his campaigning with a walk on the city's main boulevard, Nevsky Prospect, where he met World War Two veterans. The Mayor's carefully crafted appearance, however, was disturbed by a group of youths who wanted to draw his attention to the closing of a popular local music venue.

Our St Petersburg correspondent reports that in tv appearances, Sobchak seeks to play the incumbent, and attempts to keep himself above the fray. Rather than coming to the studio, Sobchak chose to be interviewed in his office. He said that he did not plan to engage the other candidates. "Ninety percent of what they propose we have already done," the Mayor said.

Sobchak was careful to stress that his election platform encompasses projects he is already pursuing. He spoke of a program to build nearly two-million homes by the end of this year, and nearly two-million by the end of next year, in order to alleviate the city's housing crisis. St Petersburg has the country's highest rate of residents living in communal apartments.

Sobchak also stressed the need to streamline and downsize the city's factories and enterprises to make them competitive in today's market. On land privatization, he boasted that during his term St Petersburg has been a leader in this area, and that 100,000 city residents are now land owners.

Sobchak's closest competitor, former Federation Council deputy Yury Boldyrev, unlike other candidates, chose not to attack Sobchak. In an interview with our correspondent, Boldyrev said that "I am not going to attack Sobchak. This is not my business. If St Petersburg's voters like the current administration they should vote for Sobchak. If not, they should vote for somebody else."

Boldyrev also was reluctant to make campaign promises, saying during his tv appearance, that "our experience shows us that most of the promises that are made in election campaigns are not kept."

Instead, Boldyrev has been stressing his favorite theme. The need for executive authority at all levels to be held accountable to its citizens. "Today, the executive branch can take money and spend money on what it wants, when it wants without legal controls," he said. "Until we solve this problem it will be difficult to solve the other concrete problems facing our city."

Boldyrev also said that basing St Petersburg's economy on tourism and banking, as has been the trend under Sobchak, was not realistic, until the city's infrastructure, educational and industrial base is rebuilt.

The election is May 19, and candidates are seeking the new office of Governor, rather than Mayor. Officials in Russia's second-largest city changed the name of the post, in order to indicate its greater executive authority.