Three candidates running for mayor in the Moscow region town of Khimki announced Tuesday that they will withdraw from the high-profile race, one of dozens of local and regional elections slated for Sunday that include the first gubernatorial elections since 2005. Igor Belousov, a former Khimki deputy mayor who became an opposition supporter, said he has decided to quit the race and back acting Mayor Oleg Shakhov, who is supported by the ruling United Russia party. Also exiting the race is Yury Babak, a candidate from the obscure Cities of Russia party who said he would also support Shakhov. The third person to abandon his candidacy Tuesday was Alexander Romanovich of the Just Russia party. Without elaborating, Romanovich said actions by the regional administration were preventing him from running a proper campaign, the party said in a statement.
Other regional elections, including several of the gubernatorial votes, have also seen last-minute candidate withdrawals. In many cases, they have been the apparent product of horse-trading by political elites aimed at assuring that Kremlin-friendly candidates win the regional leadership posts. Sunday’s gubernatorial votes in the Bryansk, Ryazan, Belgorod, Novgorod and Amur regions, the first since direct elections for governors were reinstated earlier this year, are seen as a critical test for the Kremlin. The reinstatement of gubernatorial elections was viewed as part of a Kremlin attempt to appease participants of large-scale protests that broke out in December following State Duma elections, which the opposition said were tarnished by falsifications. Direct gubernatorial elections had been abolished by President Vladimir Putin in 2004.