St. Petersburg, 24 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- With the election for governor of the Leningrad Oblast less than a week away, three opponents of frontrunner Alexander Belykov have formed a coalition and plan to announce a single candidate later this week.
The oblast is a large, mainly agricultural region the size of Ireland. It surrounds St. Petersburg and shares borders with Finland and Estonia. The vote is next Sunday.
The coalition is comprised of: Vadim Gustov, the former speaker of the old Leningrad Oblast Soviet, who a recent poll shows as a distant Number 2; Belyakov's former deputy, Nikolai Smirnov, who is running third; and former State Duma Deputy Vitaly Kirpichnikov.
The eventual coalition leader could benefit from a large number of undecided voters, more than 20 percent according to the poll.
Many factors still work in Belyakov's favor, however. One factor is the election law. If only one candidate wins 25 percent of the vote in the vote on September 29, he is to be declared the winner. Officials will schedule a second vote in two weeks if two or more candidates clear 25 percent or if no candidate receives that amount. Belyakov is almost certain to gain 25 percent. Votes against the incumbent could be diffused among the remaining 9 candidates
Another factor helping Belyakov is the likely difficulties his opponents will have in uniting their ideologically diverse electorates. Gustov has been endorsed by the local branch of the Communist Party. Smirnov has the support of the local branch of the liberal Yabloko party. Both risk losing supporters by embracing each other.
A telephone poll of 2,050 eligible voters conducted by the Independent Analytical Center from September 8 to 10, showed Belyakov leading all candidates with 48 percent. It gave Gustov 10 percent and Smirnov less than 4.5 percent.