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Russia: City Lawmaker Seeks Own Ouster To Make A Point

St. Petersburg, 2 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Alexei Kovalyov, a deputy in St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly, is fighting a lonely and unusual battle: he is trying to get himself thrown out of office.

Since March, when the city's 50 lawmakers extended their terms of office by two years to December 1998, Kovalyev -- one of the few who voted against the decision -- has been fighting the legislation in court and in the mass media. He says that if he failed to oppose the extensions he would "lose my face as a politician."

"I cannot go behind my voters' backs," he says.

Last week, his campaign seemed to pay off. The St Petersburg Municipal Court ruled that the law extending the lawmakers' time in office is illegitimate.

On Wednesday, as the Legislative Assembly went about its business as usual. The court's decision was not once mentioned on the floor. Kovalyev and his assistant, local lawyer Alexander Anikin, held a press conference in the deputy's tiny Mariinsky Palace office to announce the ruling and rail against the term extensions.

While Kovalyov's campaign for the rule of law is not as visible as the acts of more well-known politicians, he has been at it for a long time. In 1986 he took advantage of the emerging openness to form Spaseniye (Salvation), an organization that sought to protect historic monuments. Kovalyev first appeared on the political scene at the center of an event which many have called "the beginning of perestroika" in St. Petersburg -- he organized a three-day demonstration in 1987 to save the historic Angleterre Hotel on St. Isaak's Square.

While the hotel was ultimately destroyed and Kovalyev was briefly detained by police, the demonstration, called "the first important public protest by Leningraders" by political scientist Robert Orttung, signaled a significant change in the political culture of the city.

If Kovalyov's latest quest for the rule of law is successful, it will not only result in his losing his seat, but will also force his 49 colleagues to face the voters earlier than they might wish. Given this, one would expect him to be unpopular among his colleagues.

Actually, other deputies -- while they may not want to be tossed out of office and may disagree with Kovlayov's legal crusade -- show no signs of hostility toward him personally.