Vladimir Putin hails Russian local election victory

President says poll proves he has people's support as United Russia party triumphs amid low turnout and fraud claims

Vladimir Putin has hailed victories by his supporters in regional elections as proof that Russia's citizens support him.

Opposition activists alleged widespread fraud in Sunday's polls, in which candidates from Putin's United Russia party won all five races for governor and most elections for local parliaments. But a bigger problem was voter apathy, with turnout nearing record lows.

Putin, meeting Russia's election chief on Monday, thanked voters for the result. "For me, the elections results are not unexpected," he said. "I think it's yet another step that confirms voters' intention to support the current institutions of power and the development of the Russian state."

The elections, held in regions throughout Russia, were the first since Putin returned to the presidency in May amid unprecedented protests against the longtime leader's continuing rule.

They were also the first to be held since Russia returned to the practice of electing governors – which Putin banned in 2004 as he moved to centralise control.

Dmitry Medvedev, now prime minister, brought back the elections as one of his parting moves as president earlier this year – a move seen as an attempt to appease growing opposition among the urban middle classes. Putin added a so-called "filter" to the practice, leaving the Kremlin an outlet for control.

The opposition shared videos of ballot-stuffing and reports of so-called "carousels" – vans driven from poll to poll so that paid voters could cast their vote more than once. Golos, an independent vote monitoring organisation, said it received 850 reports of polling violations.

Yevgenia Chirikova, an opposition activist who lost the race for mayor of the Moscow suburb of Khimki, said she would file several law suits to contest the result.

Opposition activists threw their support behind Chirikova, an outspoken environmental campaigner who picked up about 20% of the vote. They remained largely silent on other electoral contests, a stark contrast to their large-scale agitation in the runup to national parliamentary elections late last year and the presidential vote in March.

The movement has instead turned inward, holding a series of debates leading up to the election later this month of a "co-ordinating council" that is due to be its governing body.

Turnout was low, with less than 15% of the electorate in the far eastern regions of Kamchatka and Primorye voting, and just 28% in Khimki.


Miriam Elder in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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