St. Petersburg governor closes in on speaker’s post

St. Petersburg’s outgoing governor, Valentina Matviyenko, overwhelmingly won municipal elections designed to secure her the post of the Russian parliament’s upper house speaker, the election commission said on Monday.

Matviyenko had secured 90 percent of the vote in the elections to two St. Petersburg district councils held on Sunday, after several members resigned from their posts, prompting new elections that would allow Matviyenko to be appointed to Russia’s third highest office should she win the polls.

The 62 year-old United Russia party member, whose candidacy for the speaker’s position in the Federation Council was backed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, gained 93.7 percent of the vote in the Petrovsky district elections and 94.5 percent in the Krasnenkaya Rechka district polls.

The opposition has declared Matviyenko’s elections fraudulent, as the registration of candidates for seats in the Petrovsky and Krasnenkaya Rechka district councils finished four days before Matviyenko announced on July 31 that she would run in those two districts. Critics say that made it impossible for opposition candidates to challenge her in the elections.   

The Federation Council speaker post became vacant in May, when longtime speaker Sergei Mironov, A Just Russia party leader, was ousted by the governing United Russia party over criticism of Matviyenko.

Matviyenko, who has been in office for more than seven years, has faced public criticism for failing to improve the poor state of the city’s municipal facilities as well as for authorizing plans by Russia’s energy giant Gazprom to construct a business center dominated by a needle-like skyscraper, derisively dubbed the Gazoscraper, in the northern part of St. Petersburg.

Critics feared that the tower, which was to go up next to the 18th century Smolny Cathedral, would ruin St. Petersburg’s unique low-rise skyline. The plan, which prompted fierce public opposition, was abandoned after objections from UNESCO and the Russian president.

Another project was proposed, moving the business center construction site nine kilometers away from the city’s historical center.

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