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Russian Billionaire Abramovich Wins Regional Legislature Seat

Roman Abramovich
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has been elected to the remote Chukotka region's legislature with 97 percent of the vote, according to official figures.

Abramovich, the 41-year-old owner of English soccer club Chelsea, was elected governor of Chukotka in 2000, but quit the position in May. He remains popular after investing heavily in the region in Russia's Far East.

His support in the October 12 election surpassed the 87.2 percent of votes that Vladimir Putin, who is now prime minister, won in Chukotka in the Russian presidential election in 2004.

Putin retained Abramovich as governor of one of Russia's most impoverished regions in 2005 after changing the law to abolish elections for regional governors. This was part of the Kremlin's plans to ensure the wealth of Russia's rich businessmen helped revive Russia's economy.

Abramovich has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on rebuilding Chukotka, located on the Bering Strait opposite Alaska. Brightly colored Canadian-designed homes have replaced shabby Soviet-era buildings in a demonstration of its new wealth.

Abramovich is widely expected to become the head of the regional parliament.

The Chukotka election was part of a series of regional votes on October 12, including polls in the Irkutsk, Kemerovo, and Trans-Baikal regions and the southern republic of Chechnya.

The main pro-Kremlin party Unified Russia, headed by Putin, scored winning votes ranging from 49 percent in Irkutsk to 88 percent in Chechnya, securing the lead role in all five regional legislatures.

Three other parties -- A Just Russia, the Communist Party, and the Liberal Democratic Party -- will form minority factions. The three describe themselves as opposition parties, but are generally loyal to the Kremlin.