Navalny allies claim symbolic win in Russian regional vote

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA (AFP) – Russia’s political opposition Monday (Sept 14) claimed a symbolic victory in regional elections while the ruling party said exit polls showed they were headed for a win in a vote observers said was marred by fraud.

Russians in dozens of the country’s 85 regions voted over several days for governors and lawmakers in regional and city legislatures as well as in several by-elections for national MPs.

The polls came a year ahead of parliamentary elections and were seen as a test for the Kremlin, as the ruling party faces sinking popularity and simmering public anger over economic woes.

The vote was overshadowed by the alleged poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the Siberian city of Tomsk ahead of the vote.

In an effort to fight President Vladimir Putin’s electoral machine, Mr Navalny and his team urged voters back candidates against the ruling United Russia party.

Mr Navalny, a 44-year-old lawyer and Kremlin critic had been in Siberia to promote a “smart voting” campaign when he was poisoned last month with what Germany says was a Novichok nerve agent.

His supporters believe the use of the banned chemical weapon shows that only the Russian state could be responsible.

Two allies of the opposition leader won local Parliament seats Monday in the Siberian city of Tomsk where he fell ill, according to early poll results.

United Russia suffered heavy losses in the city of some 500,000, winning just 24.46 per cent of the overall vote compared to 52.27 per cent in 2015.

“I think everyone will understand that it was a question of principle to win in Tomsk after what happened there,” wrote Ms Ksenia Fadeyeva, the 28-year-old head of Mr Navalny’s Tomsk office who won a city council seat.

In Russia’s third-largest city of Novosibirsk, which Mr Navalny also visited during his campaign, his ally Sergei Boyko said Sunday that he won a seat on the local council.

Official results are expected to be announced at the Central Elections Committee Monday.

United Russia chairman Dmitry Medvedev praised Sunday the party’s electoral successes, saying that exit polls showed it was heading for victory in regional legislatures.

Of 18 regions that voted for governors, 12 elected candidates from United Russia and the remainder chose figures aligned with Kremlin-friendly opposition parties.

The independent election monitor group Golos said on Sunday it had received a “stream of reports” that observers had been denied their legal rights to view documents and submit complaints, with conflicts sometimes ending in “fisticuffs”.

It said it also received reports of ballot stuffing and officials switching ballot papers cast by real voters for ones they had filled in.

Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova reported however that officials had registered “practically no violations”.

Vote organisers said they were holding the ballot between Friday and Sunday to limit the chance of a coronavirus outbreak. The opposition said the move was a ploy to make it easier for the results to be fabricated.

The European Union denounced the vote held in Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, saying it would not recognise officials elected as representatives of Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin hosted a week-long vote earlier this year on changes to the Constitution that make it possible for him to remain in power until 2036, with Kremlin critics raising concerns over outdoor polling stations and the multi-day vote.

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