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Mayor Approves St Petersburg Election Law

ST PETERSBURG, Mar 11 (RFE/RL) - St Petersburg Mayor Anatoly Sobchak has signed into law a measure setting a St Petersburg "gubernatorial" election June 16.

The law provides that the successor to Mayor Sobchak, whose term expires in June, will be known as St Petersburg's governor, a title that suggests greater executive authority.

President Boris Yeltsin and his representative in St Petersburg, Sergei Tsiplayev, objected to the law because the local election will compete with the national presidential election (also Jun 16).

One controversial provision limits candidacy to persons who have held a St Petersburg residency permits for one year prior to the election. This effectively excludes potential candidates - including former Federation Council deputy and Yabloko party co-founder Yuri Boldyrev, and former Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Chubais - who have lived out of the city in their federal jobs.

Boldyrev, who often is mentioned as a likely gubernatorial candidate, objected to the restriction. He has suggested that he had anticipated some regulation aimed at himself. Asked last June if he would run, Boldyrev said was awaiting a law that would allow only people with blue eyes to run. He said: "Then I will be ineligible."

After the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly passed the electoral law last month, Boldyrev was quoted as saying: "If our mayor is a real man, he will veto (the law) and refuse to participate in this dishonest game."

An incentive for adoption of the St Petersburg electoral law came from Alexander Belyayev, another former Federation Council Deputy and declared mayoral candidate. Belyaev had warned that Communist Gennady Zyuganov may win the presidency in June. Belyayev said that if St Petersburg lacked an electoral law, Zyuganov might have an opening to appoint a communist as mayor.

St Petersburg, the former Leningrad, is staunchly non-communist. The leading Communist candidate is Yuri Severnard, who currently polls three percent of the electorate.

The head of the city's legal department, Dmitri Kozak, defended the residency provision. He said it is consistent with federal law on elections to executive power at the regional level. Legislative Assembly Deputy Victor Novoselov defended the timing of the election also. He said it is consistent with the Russian Constitution. He added that elections need to come at the end of Sobchak's term in June. He added that holding city elections together with the presidential poll in June will save electoral expense.

The new electoral law provides for a run-off between the top two candidates if nobody achieves a majority in the first round of voting. To have one's name placed on the ballot, a candidate must collect 65,000 signatures of legal St Petersburg residents. The law provides for free tv and radio time for each qualified candidate.

Sobchak was elected mayor of St Petersburg in June 1991.