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Dispute Churns Over Regional Election Date

St. Petersburg, July 18 (RFE/RL) -- The Leningrad Oblast, an administrative region adjacent to St. Petersburg, plans a gubernatorial election this year, but the exact date is in question. It's a dispute reminiscent of one involving St. Petersburg's own election date earlier this year.

Officials are discussing two likely dates for the Leningrad Oblast election, September 15 and December 8.

Federal law requires that elections in Russia's 89 constituent regions be held in December of this year. Presidential decrees granted certain regions, such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhni Novgorod and Sverdlovsk Oblast, exceptions and allowed them to hold elections early.

When Russian President Boris Yeltsin was in St Petersburg in June for a campaign visit, Leningrad Oblast Governor Alexander Belyakov requested permission to hold the election in the autumn instead of in December. Alexander Borisov, Belyakov's press secretary, says Yeltsin orally agreed to the request. But a presidential degree is needed for the oblast to hold an early election. Such a decree has yet to be issued.

Borisov said that Governor Belyakov wants early gubernatorial elections to avoid conflict with local district and village council elections scheduled for December.

Two weeks ago, the Leningrad Oblast Legislative Assembly set the date for both the gubernatorial election and local council elections as December 8. The assembly will review the question in a meeting on July 30. Borisov said the issue will be settled in what he called a "civilized manner." He said that if the presidential decree comes through, the election will be held early. If not, it won't.

All of which kindles memory of the St. Petersburg election scheduling issue earlier this year. When St Petersburg finally held its gubernatorial election this spring, the poll followed a dispute between local and federal authorities over the date. Negotiations between Yeltsin and former Mayor Anatoly Sobchak resulted in setting an early date of May 19.