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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.

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"People clearly have little interest in supporting the government, but they're not enthused by the opposition either. Actually, a lot of recent opinion polls show a curious paradox unfolding: Support for the authorities is falling, but support for the opposition is falling faster. That's why we see this odd result, that seems to show a big victory for United Russia, but standing upon a very narrow base of the population," he adds.

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Points of light

There appeared to be only two relative points of light for the "white ribbon" opposition, which sprang into existence after allegations of massive fraud in last December's Duma elections – and which has continued to be able to stage major shows of strength in the streets of Moscow every few months.

Veteran independent lawmaker Vladimir Ryzhkov, co-chair of the liberal Party of Peoples' Freedom (PARNAS), won a city council seat in his home town of Barnaul, in western Siberia.

And environmental campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova, who led a long struggle to stop a toll road through an old-growth forest in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, came in second in her bid to become Khimki mayor – suggesting that the opposition can fight their way into the system.

Ms. Chirikova, who was one of the few opposition candidates to have a good ground game and well-organized supporters, says that her campaign was hobbled at every turn by dirty tricks and massive official support given to her United Russia opponent, acting mayor Oleg Shakhov. At an election night press conference, Chirkova said her observers had documented large-scale fraud and, in one case, she was physically prevented from documenting violations and had her phone confiscated by polling station security.

'Dirty elections'

"I’m going to tell the world just how dirty these elections are," Chirikova told journalists. "We are seeing a massive falsification of the vote."

But experts say, though fraud may well have been widespread, the central lesson of Sunday's election is that the opposition needs to broaden its base and develop a more mature program if it hopes to enthuse larger numbers of Russian voters.

"In local elections, voters are looking for people who can solve their problems, and not necessarily for political fire-breathers," says Mr. Mukhin. "The fact is that most United Russia candidates are experienced professional managers, and in many cases they talked up their credentials, while distinctly downplaying their party association...."

"The opposition needs to recruit more capable managers, and learn to use more normal, practical political slogans. To shout "Putin must go!" may get some traction in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where people are far more politically intense, but it's just not going to work with the majority of Russians out there in the provinces," he says.

"It was no great victory for United Russia. The system worked for them just as it was designed to. But it was a telling defeat for the opposition – and one they should learn from," he adds.


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