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#11 - JRL 7239
June 25, 2003
Matviyenko set to take St Petersburg by storm
By Ilya Zhegulev

Valentina Matviyenko has officially announced that she is preparing for the St Petersburg governorship. Everything is ready for her to assume power in the city: the seat of the former governor Vladimir Yakovlev has been temporarily assigned to a loyal person, and yesterday the office of the presidential envoy snatched control of the citys leading television network, the Peterburg Channel a key resource in the forthcoming election campaign.

Vladimir Putins plenipotentiary representative to northwest Russia Valentina Matviyenko chose a very appropriate venue for announcing her intent to run for the governorship the Oktyabrsky Big Concert Hall, where an award ceremony for St Petersburg school-leavers was being held on Tuesday.

30 of the citys top pupils were invited to a meeting with the presidential envoy, who awarded them with medals in commemoration of their hometowns 300th anniversary. As she addressed the school-leavers, the symbolic new generation, Matviyenko said what many have been anticipating: ''My decision to run is firm and final.''

One has to admit that Valentina Matviyenko, despite the fact that she had never before voiced her gubernatorial ambitions, has nevertheless been considered one of the strongest candidates for the post.

On Tuesday it became clear that her appointment as the presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District was only temporary: Valentina Ivanovna [Matviyenko] needed that post as a foothold for her campaign in case of Vladimir Yakovlevs refusal to abandon the seat voluntarily.

''Valentina Ivanovnas decision was not a surprise for us,'' said the deputy chairman of the Yabloko party Igor Artemiev. ''Yabloko understood that Valentina Matviyenko would run. We are ready to meet and discuss the future campaign with her,'' Artemiev said.

Many others also perceived her intentions. Earlier this month the governor of St Petersburg Vladimir Yakovlev, after holding the post for seven years, was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of the housing sector, construction and transportation by President Putin. Subsequently, Yakovlev vacated the governors post in the northern capital. Former vice-governor and the head of the pro-Kremlin United Russia partys St Petersburg branch Alexander Beglov was appointed the acting governor pending new elections.

Despite the endless speculation in the media and among political observers who viewed Matviyenko as the likeliest candidate for the vacated post, the presidential envoy had until recently acted cautiously. She admitted that she was receiving numerous proposals from St Petersburg public figures and politicians to run for the governors post, but always added that she had to thoroughly consider those offers.

Matviyenko took as much time for reflection as was needed for the federal centre to take full control of the citys leading media outlet, the Peterburg television network.

As Gazeta.Ru wrote earlier, the editorial policy of the citys channel was geared towards the interests of the Yakovlev team, and has been subject to unprecedented pressure of late. The director general of the company Irina Terkina has been forced to leave after having worked in her post for over 10 years.

On Saturday the channels board appointed Igor Igrnatiev acting director general of the company. Earlier, Ignatiev worked at the St Petersburg affiliate of the state-owned All-Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Corporation [the owner of the nationwide Rossia Channel and Radio of Russia], the main mouthpiece of the office of the presidential envoy in northwestern Russia.

Chairman of the Legislative Assembly of St Petersburg Vadim Tyulpanov does not rule out that the elections for governor and those for the Leningrad Region may be combined in order to draw as many voters as possible to the polling stations and are likely to be held on September 21.

The speaker said he considers Matviyenkos candidature as ''most attractive''. On Tuesday he cited the latest results of a public opinion poll, according to which the envoys rating exceeds 30 per cent.

Among other likely contenders to the governors post Tyulpanov named State Duma deputy Oksana Dmitriyeva and the vice-governor Anna Markova, whose ratings are 10 and 5 per cent respectively. Anna Markova has already officially announced her intention to run.

However, observers agree that Vladimir Yakovlevs successor, be it his ardent supporters (Yuri Rydnik or Anna Markova), or Oksana Dmitriyeva, however different their popularity ratings are, no longer have the resources to win over Yakovlevs former supporters.

The first time Valentina Matviyenko ran for the St Petersburg governorship was in 2000. However, then she joined the race too late to win. Besides, the administrative resources in the city were in the hands of the incumbent Yakovlev. Her chances of winning were regarded as extremely low, despite the Kremlins full support, and Matviyenko withdrew her candidacy to avoid an ignominious defeat. This time, her victory is deemed inevitable, with her chances of losing believed to be as low as her chances of winning back in 2000.

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