The party of Russian President Vladimir Putin has suffered big losses in Moscow elections as candidates endorsed by his arch-rival won almost half the seats, authorities said yesterday.
Elections to Moscow city council are usually low-key affairs but Sunday’s vote gained prominence when election authorities refused to register a dozen independent candidates, including well known Kremlin critics.
Their dismissal triggered major opposition protests over the summer and despite a tough police crackdown the demonstrations were the largest in Russia for years.
With all the votes counted, 20 candidates supported by opposition leader Alexei Navalny won seats on the 45-member council. All of the 20 candidates, although often nominally opposing authorities, were endorsed by Mr Navalny’s Smart Voting strategy, which called on voters to cast their ballots in order to oust the candidates of Mr Putin’s United Russia party.
“This is a terrific result and we fought for it together,” Mr Navalny said in the early hours of yesterday.
In a sign that United Russia is losing ground in Moscow, the party did not officially nominate a single candidate for the council, and all of its members or candidates affiliated with the party ran as independents, playing down their ties to the party.
United Russia nominees were seen winning governorships in several dozen regions in Sunday’s elections.
In the Far East, however, they suffered a crushing defeat. The Liberal Democratic Party won all but one seat in Khabarovsk city council and dominated in several other local elections, including the mayoral vote.
Voting in St Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, was marred by violations and reported election fraud.
Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said yesterday that she was aware of the reports and would look into them.
Alexander Beglov, who was endorsed by Putin, was seen winning the race for governor with 64 per cent of the vote.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that the election results showed the opposition’s idea of protest voting had largely failed.
The opposition celebrated Sunday’s election results that would cut the pro-government presence on Moscow city council from 38 to 25 but many expressed disappointment with what has been perceived as an unfair registration process.
Daria Besedina, a candidate from the liberal Yabloko party who was allowed on the ballot and won in her district, said yesterday that she would vote for the dissolution of the council when it convenes.
“We shouldn’t forget that these were not real elections – a lot of genuine [opposition] candidates who would have won were not allowed to run,” she tweeted.
“Moscow would have got an opposition council if all the candidates were registered.”
In an editorial, the Moscow Times said: “More than half of those Muscovites who turned out on Sunday were willing to support anyone except the Kremlin candidates.
“That’s a scary result for the Kremlin after this summer’s suppression.
“It means the only way it can win is by cheating and using force – not a sustainable state of affairs in the long run.”
Mr Navalny was in a jubilant mood yesterday.
In an online post, he said: “We won! Congratulations to all. I am willing to walk around Moscow and kiss everyone.
“This was the first experience of a huge and very complicated collective action on the part of voters – grassroots action.”
Dissent in Russia is ruthlessly suppressed by Mr Putin, and Mr Navalny has been arrested many times by the Russian authorities.