The ruling United Russia party swept to victory in regional elections held on Sunday, but the results were marred by charges of vote rigging.
According to preliminary totals, the party received an average of 60 per cent of votes across six provinces where legislatures were being elected, though votes were still being counted in thousands of mayoral and local elections across Russia. United Russia’s preliminary results were up slightly from the last round of regional elections, held in March, which were judged to be comparatively clean by observers. The party then got about 50 per cent.
On Sunday, however, opposition leaders claimed that United Russia – headed by Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, and known informally as the “party of bureaucrats” for its ties to the establishment – had employed dirty tactics.
On Monday, the head of the central election committee in Chuvashia province resigned, saying she was put under political pressure during the election.
“In 15 years of working in this election system I have always been certain that in Chuvashia the election commission system does not fall under someone’s influence, and works in accordance with the law . . . These last elections have made me doubt this,” Lyudmila Linik said at a press conference. She added the election commission had been “guided by certain political forces”.
A central election commission official in Moscow responded that Ms Linik was “tired”.
A front-page headline in the establishment Kommersant newspaper warned that “Voting day may set a record for scandals”. In Dagestan, in the war-torn north Caucasus, a village mayor was shot dead in a scuffle after 4,600 ballots went missing, police said.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the rightwing opposition Liberal Democratic party, criticised Sunday’s vote. “There was everything: bribery, blackmail and threats. United Russia will always have it all. [It] is a new modification of the Soviet Communist party,” he told the Interfax news agency.
Last year opposition parties walked out of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, in protest at what they said was blatant vote fraud in a similar round of regional elections.
United Russia’s showing was being watched carefully for signs that recent missteps by the government would tarnish the party’s reputation. Party hierarchs had feared that popular anger over the government’s handling of devastating forest fires in August would rub off on them.
While there was little chance that the party would lose any major elections held on Sunday, which were conducted in 77 of 89 provinces, its victory margins were carefully scrutinised. With a year to go before nationwide parliamentary elections – and 18 months before a presidential campaign – United Russia needed to show it could maintain electoral hegemony in Russia’s regions.
The sacking of Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow mayor, on September 28 also looked set to damage party unity. On Monday, the Kremlin said it would choose a new mayor from a list of four candidates submitted by United Russia.