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Russia: Incumbent Leads Leningrad's Regional Election, Say Polls

St. Petersburg, 18 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Less than two weeks before the regional election in the Leningrad Oblast, the incumbent governor, Alexander Belyakov, is reported to be maintaining a commanding lead over all other candidates.

A recently released public opinion poll shows Belyakov with almost 50 percent of the vote while the two best placed opponents --Vadim Gustov, former speaker of the Leningrad Oblast Soviet, and Nikolai Smirnov, former deputy governor -- have 10 percent or less.

Faced with a humiliating defeat, Gustov and Smirnov as well as former State Duma deputy Vitaly Kirpichnikov have united and are expected to announce a single coalition candidate this week. They hope this candidate would attract undecided voters. The poll showed that about 20 percent of potential voters are still undecided.

There is some doubt whether such a coalition could succeed. Belyakov's opponents represent diverse views and it could be difficult to reconcile those differences. Gustov, for example, has been endorsed by the local branch of the communist party while Smirnov is supported by the local chapter of the liberal Yabloko party. Each risks losing supporters by embracing each other.

Joseph Shakovsky, the press secretary for the local branch of Democratic Russia's Choice said yesterday in an interview with RFE/RL that "the coalition creates a difficult situation. We would be inclined to support Smirnov but the fact that he is in a coalition with a candidate who is supported by the communists makes this difficult."

Belyakov has reportedly been endorsed by several smaller parties, including Our Home Is Russia, which serves as a political base for Russia's Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin.