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Russia: St. Petersburg Mayor To Face Recall Vote

  • Brian Whitmore

St. Petersburg, 2 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - One year after his inauguration, city Governor Vladimir Yakovlev soon will face St. Petersburg's voters again.

The St. Petersburg Electoral Commission has declared valid more than 165,000 signatures submitted by a Communist-backed group demanding a referendum on whether the Governor should resign. That's enough under the law to require the referendum.

The city's Legislative Assembly now must set a date for the referendum after 30 days and no later than 60 days from the Electoral Commission's declaration. That means that Yakovlev will face the voters between late June and late July.

Yury Kravtsov, chairman of the Legislative Assembly, noted that the referendum will cost St. Petersburg the equivalent of $3.5 million -- money which, he said, the city does not have.

"It is a pity to waste 20,000-million (billion) rubles on such a thing," he said.

Kravtsov also said it is unlikely that the 50 percent of eligible voters required for a valid referendum even will turn out.

Last summer, only 42 percent of St. Petersburg's voters cast ballots in the second round of the city's gubernatorial election, which Yakovlev won by a thin margin.

The Russian Communist Workers' Party initiated the no-confidence referendum in response to Yakovlev's decision in February to double apartment rents and housing-service charges.

A year ago, Yakovlev's image was as a man of action who would make St. Petersburg's ailing municipal services work again. Campaigning in his shirt-sleeves and often donning a construction worker's hard-hat, he cultivated a 'can-do' image reminiscent of Moscow's popular and powerful Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Yakovlev billed himself as a manager, not a politician -- a man who would roll up his sleeves and fix the city's crumbling infrastructure.

In his first months in office, the governor maintained that image, climbing into metro tunnels, raiding bootleg liquor dealers at local markets and overseeing road repairs. Today, that picture is tattered. The referendum is the most visible evidence of Yakovlev's fading reputation.

The man Yakovlev defeated a year ago, former mayor Anatoly Sobchak, gleefully seized on the referendum drive to slam his successor. In a recent interview Sobchak charged that Yakovlev is out of touch with the people.