The Strange Saga of the Woman Set to Become Russia's Number Three

The clown, ice cream, and horse-filled story of her rise

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Valentino Matviyenko is on track to become Russia's number three, and it seems like nothing can stop her. Currently the governor of St. Petersberg, the 62-year-old poltician and close ally of Vladimir Putin won over 95 percent of the votes cast on Sunday in the regional election for a seat in the Federation Council. With the support of Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, she's now poised to take the currently vacant position at the head of the upper house, and in doing so become the highest-ranking Russian stateswoman since Catherine the Great, as the BBC reports is being suggested. Since the Federation Council is loyal to the Kremlin, her ascendency seems all but guaranteed.

The Telegraph notes that the Matviyenko's overwhelming majority is "extremely unusual for St. Petersburg." And so were Matviyenko's get-out-the-vote techniques. Interfax reported that "clowns offered free ice cream … acrobats performed tricks outside the polling stations, while inside, stalls were stocked to the ceiling with cheap buns." Free check ups for voters and their pets were also offered at voting stations. Leading up to the election, police confiscated 145,000 copies of a newspaper that criticized Matviyenko without explanation. At that time, The Moscow Times reported that "local authorities are pulling out all the stops to ensure that nothing disrupts the vote."

"[This is] one hunded percent fraud, not an election," opposition leader Boris Nemstov wrote on his LiveJournal blog following Sunday's vote. "Police were instructed to detain all those campaigning against Matvienko. I experienced it myself. August 14, at Marshall Street Kazakova police detained me, saying that the campaign against Matviyenko was illegal."

Matviyenko has been at the center of circus-like in Russia lately, especially in Putin's hometown of St. Petersberg. Having risen through the ranks of the Russian aristocracy as a loyal diplomat, Matviyenko became Russia's highest-ranking woman in 1998, when she served as a deputy prime minister on the cabinet of Yevgeny Primakov, Putin's predecessor. Also a St. Petersburg native, Matviyenko won Putin's overwhelming support when she ran for governor in 2003, drawing criticism for endorsing her on national television. After Matviyenko failed to win the majority in the first round of voting, her opponent Anna Markova rode through St. Petersburg's on horseback, holding a sign that read "Would you vote for a horse if the president asked you to?" Matviyenko won the run-off with 63 percent of the vote.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.