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Putin's United Russia dominates regional elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin's party took nearly every regional seat in Sunday's elections, but most analysts say that the results were probably an accurate reflection of public sentiment.

By Correspondent / October 15, 2012

A man leaves a voting booth during local elections in the Moscow suburb of Khimki on Oct. 14. Russian regional elections have tightened Vladimir Putin's grip on power and underlined opposition failure to build street protest into an effective challenge at the start of the president's six-year term.

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Moscow

Pro-Kremlin candidates swept the field Sunday in thousands of local elections, which opposition leaders allege were marred by fraud. However, most analysts say they are probably an accurate reflection of the country's mood.

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More than 4,800 Russian localities held polls Sunday, including five regions that saw direct gubernatorial elections for the first time since President Vladimir Putin suspended direct voting for governors eight years ago. With most votes counted on Monday, it was clear that the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had nabbed all five gubernatorial spots, and won handy majorities in most regional and city legislatures that were up for grabs.

"This was more of a defeat for the opposition than a victory for United Russia," says Alexei Mukhin, director of the independent Center for Political Information in Moscow. "The opposition needs to learn a lot of lessons, and the authorities would make a big mistake if they become complacent."

Mr. Putin seized on the results as an affirmation of the rightness of his course. "In my view these election results are not unexpected," he said in a meeting with the head of the Central Election Commission on Monday. "I think it is just one more step that confirms the intentions of voters to support the existing institutions of power, and the way Russian state politics are developing."

The independent election watchdog Golos, which has come under ferocious fire from the authorities for its role in exposing massive electoral fraud in last December's Duma elections, posted more than 1,000 violations of polling station rules this year, including alleged cases of repeat voting, ballot box stuffing, buying absentee ballots, and voter roll irregularities.

More participatory?

But Andrei Buzin, an expert with Golos, says that these elections were in some ways more participatory than previous ones in the Putin era, and that the incidence of electoral violations was probably no higher than in the past.

"I think we are registering more violations this time because we have a much better qualified corps of observers that we are fielding, and they are highly motivated to watch for anything out of place," Mr. Buzin says. "This is a big improvement."

As before, he says, the fact that United Russia candidates enjoyed all sorts of direct and indirect state support probably played a key role.

"All information about the elections reached most people via the state media, and in most cases there were no alternative sources," he says.

Other commentators pointed to voter exhaustion, and warned that many were turning away from the electoral process altogether. Turnout was at a low ebb, even for Russian regional elections, with less than 25 percent of voters casting ballots, on average, around the country. In the far-eastern Primorsky Krai, less than 8 percent of voters bothered to show up.

"The low turnout is a very important indicator that no one really won these elections," says Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the independent Institute for the Study of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow.

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