Voters will go to the polls in Nizhny Novgorod oblast next Sunday, June 29, to choose a successor for former governor Boris Nemtsov, who joined the Russian government three months ago. The race is too close to call: Communist challenger Gennady Khodyrev is running only two percentage points in the polls behind the government-backed candidate, Ivan Sklyarov.
Nizhny Novgorod oblast has served as the flagship of Russia’s economic reforms, and a victory for Sklyarov would mark a major gain for the opposition. With this in mind, the Communists have seized the opportunity to present their case that Nemtsov’s vaunted reforms have brought local people nothing but pain. They hope thereby also to weaken Nemtsov’s chances as a candidate for Russia’s presidential election in 2000. Scenting victory, Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party has unexpectedly declared its support for the Communist candidate. Local reformers blame Nemtsov for the situation: they say he took his best associates with him when he went to Moscow, leaving no designated heir to step into his shoes. Sklyarov, who is now mayor of Nizhny Novgorod but who was a Communist Party official in the Soviet period, is seen by the liberal camp as at best a reluctant reformer and a man who still displays the authoritarian traits of that previous existence. For this reason, three liberal candidates have refused to stand down, but their presence on the ballot threatens to split the democratic vote and increases the likelihood of a Communist victory. (NTV, June 22)
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