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Leningrad Oblast Election Heats Up

St. Petersburg, August 2 (RFE/RL) -- The presidential elections that re-annointed Boris Yeltsin, and the election in St. Peterburg that installed the city's first "governor," have not settled all Russia's pending democratic issues.

According to federal law, the 52 regions of Russia that still have unelected governors must hold elections by the end of this year. On Wednesday, Presidential Chief of Staff Anatoly Chubais announced in Moscow that he is forming a team comprised of the campaign staff that helped re-elect Yeltsin, to assist pro-reform candidates in the regions.

Leningrad Oblast, a separate administrative territory from St Petersburg, will hold its elections for governor on December 8. Yeltsin appointed incumbent Governor Alexander Belyakov in 1991. Belyakov is an active member of the pro-government party Our Home is Russia.

The governor's press secretary, Alexei Borisov, says that Belyakov originally sought an earlier election date because he did wanted to avoid a gubernatorial poll coincidenti wth December elections for district and village councils.

Other suspect Belyakov of different motives. The local daily Sankt-Peterburgskoye Vedomosti said Tuesday in an editorial that many anticipate an economic crisis in the late fall and early winter, and that it thus is in Belyakov's interest to hold elections as early as possible.

Tatyana Dorutina, the chairwoman of the Free Democratic Party and a member of the St Petersburg Political Council, an alliance of local liberal parties, said she agrees. She said she also considered early elections as a chance to harm the communists' electoral prospects.

The St. Petersburg experience was that an early election failed to help the incumbent. Anatoly Sobchak lost his seat to Vladimir Yakovlev in an early election this spring. Are there any Yakovlevs waiting in the wings to challenge Belyakov? So far nobody but the incumbent has declared a candidacy.

The first party to endorse a candidate was the Communist Party. Alexander Olkhovsky, a representative of the Leningrad Oblast Communist Party, says that party members have voted to support the former speaker of the Leningrad Soviet, Vadim Gustov. Gustov, a left leaning independent, is expected to declare his candidacy soon. If Gustov runs, it would be a re-match of a 1993 Federation Council election, which Balyakov led. Both candidates won seats in the upper house of the Russian parliament.

The oblast election law states that to be eligible for the election, candidates must either be residents of Leningrad Oblast or work in the administrative structures of the oblast. To qualify, a would-be candidate must gather 13,000 signatures from residents of Leningrad Oblast by September 1.