St. Petersburg, August 12 (RFE/RL) -- Five candidates have begun gathering signatures to challenge Leningrad Oblast Governor Alexander Belyakov in the oblast's first democratic gubernatorial election scheduled for September 29.
Candidates have until August 30 to collect the 13,000 signatures required.
Belyakov originally was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin to head the rural oblast, a separate administrative district from St. Petersburg. He is a member of the pro-government party Our Home Is Russia.
Belyakov's strongest opponents are likely to be Vadim Gustov, a left of center independent supported by the communists, and Yevgeny Istomin, a free market liberal.
Gustov and Belyakov faced off in Leningrad Oblast's 1993 election to the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament. Belyakov finished first with 42 percent of the vote. Gustov drew 22.5 percent.
A representative of the Leningrad Oblast branch of the Communist Party, Alexander Olkhovsky, says the communists have chosen to support Gustov because they are impressed with his ideas on industrial development. Gustov is not a party member.
Istomin, an unsuccessful candidate for the State Duma from the liberal party Forward Russia, is former mayor of Petergof, a St. Petersburg suburb. He is now a deputy in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly and served in the government of former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak as the head of the Human Rights Commission.
At first, the oblast Electoral Commission denied Istomin permission to collect signatures because he was a resident of St. Petersburg. This week, Istomin secured a Leningrad Oblast residency permit and began his signature drive.
The other three candidates so far are Alexander Lizarkin, the head of the Ecology Committee in the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly; Vladimir Stepanov, the deputy chair of the Northwestern military district; and Lyubov Shastina, the head of the tax inspectorate in the Vsyevolozhsgy district.