Russian cleaner takes power in surprise vote in village


By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Moscou

image copyrightCouncil of Povalikhino

legendThis is the building in Povalikhino that Marina Udgodskaya spent years cleaning
For the past four years, Marina Udgodskaya has cleaned and mopped the offices of the local government building in Povalikhino, rural Russia.

Now the 35-year-old housekeeper is lowering her dust collectors to settle in the boss’s seat, having won an election earlier this month that she only entered to have him back.

When no one in the village registered to challenge Nikolai Loktev, who is from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, he persuaded Ms. Udgodskaya to register as his “rival” to secure the minimum requirement of two candidates.

This plan backfired when the cleaner beat him with a landslide.

‘She was flabbergasted’

“Nikolai Loktev thought that no one would vote for her and that he would stay in his post. But people had had enough and they went out and chose Marina Udgodskaya, ”a member of the local election commission told the BBC from Povalikhino.

“He was amazed and she was flabbergasted! The woman, who didn’t want to be identified, laughed over the phone line.

She says she personally heard Mr. Loktev ask the cleaner to oppose him.

image copyrightGetty Images
legendThe outgoing boss in Povalikhino has no hard feelings over the takeover of the old cleaner (file photo)

Ms Udgodskaya was inundated with appeals after her surprise victory hit national headlines.

‘I did not do anything’

She has since stopped answering her phone and kept a low profile ahead of her inauguration later this week.

But in one of the first interviews, she seemed stunned by her victory, describing herself as a “fake” candidate who was “not ready” for such a quick promotion.

“I didn’t think people would vote for me,” she told Telegram Podyom news channel. “I didn’t do anything at all! “

Despite this, she won almost 62% of the vote. Her boss barely succeeded 34%.

Neither candidate campaigned actively before the election: no billboards, no leaflets, no meetings with voters. The locals claim that it is useless when everyone knows everyone.


Povalikhino, dotted with brightly colored one-story wooden buildings, is the largest of the 30 villages that fall under the administration that Ms. Udgodskaya will now lead.

It has only 242 inhabitants.

“I did everything that was necessary in the job; there are no problems in the village, ”Mr Loktev told the BBC during one of his last days in power, struggling to understand his defeat.

“It is clear that people wanted change,” concluded the 58-year-old former policeman.

‘I think she will face’

Some have suggested the result was a protest against Mr Loktev’s United Russia party, which has fallen in polls across the country. In Kostroma, where Povalikhino is located, the party won only 32% of the vote for the regional parliament.

Elsewhere, a smart voting strategy pushed by opposition politician Alexei Navalny – backing the candidate most likely to defeat United Russia – has brought new faces in politics.

But in Povalikhino, the village trader insisted that this result was personal: Mr. Loktev had simply ceased to be interested in his responsibilities.

“If we could have voted

against all we would have, but we had the option to vote for Marina, that’s what we did, ”Irina explained.

“I think she’ll be fine. The whole village will help. Of course, his education needs a little boost. “

Like it or not, Ms. Udgodskaya is stuck in her new job. If she declined the role, the Retirees Party that supports her says she would have to pay for the entire election to be re-elected.

He would rather paint his candidate as a figure of Cinderella than as an accidental winner.

“She worked in the administration as a housekeeper and saw how everything was done, and of course in her heart she had the idea to participate,” said spokesman Valery Gromov – and he ignore his inexperience.

“Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was a housewife and didn’t know anything either! Now she is at the height of her popularity, ”he said, referring to the Belarusian opposition leader.

Until she steps into her new role, Marina Udgodskaya would continue her cleaning job as the man she defeated packs up her things and moves out.

“I am not upset,” insisted Nikolai Loktev. “People voted for her, so let her do her job. “

Then he added, “I don’t think there was anything wrong with her being responsible for the place she was cleaning. It means she knows her way. “


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