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Unified Russia Scores Predictable Victories In Regional Elections

  • Robert Coalson

There were few surprises in Russia's regional elections on March 1.

There were few surprises in Russia's regional elections on March 1.

Voters went to the polls in regional and local elections across Russia on March 1, in the first electoral test in the country since the start of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency and the onset of the global economic crisis.

There were few surprises in the regional elections. The ruling Unified Russia party secured majorities in all nine of the regional legislatures being contested, and turnout was low because the local polls did not coincide with any national races.

State Duma speaker and Unified Russia Supreme Council Chairman Boris Gryzlov welcomed the results at a Moscow press conference. "The polls show strong support for Unified Russia, much more support than in elections to the same legislatures four or five years ago," he said. "I think in some regions we can talk about an increase from 20 to 23 percent to 55 to 57 percent."

According to preliminary results, Unified Russia's share of the vote in the regional elections ranged from 79.3 in Tatarstan to 42.46 percent in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug.

Final figures for overall turnout have yet to be produced, but throughout the country, the number of voters who showed up at the polls was significantly lower than during either the 2008 presidential or the 2007 parliamentary polls.

Moscow-based political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told RFE/RL's Russian Service that enthusiasm and expectations among the electorate were low.

"This was all very predictable. In the first place, turnout was low. People didn't feel the need to vote because they didn't have a very high opinion of these elections," Oreshkin said.

"Second, election results largely depend on the use of local administrative resources," he continued. "This is particularly true in regions with obedient electorates like in the North Caucasus. Third, a wide mass of people still do not understand the crisis."

The Communist Party of Russia polled a distant second in eight of the nine regions, dealing a sharp blow to the pro-Kremlin, left-leaning A Just Russia party, headed by Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov.

The Communists fared best in Vladimir Oblast, with 27.75 percent of the vote, and worst in the North Caucasus republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, where they polled 8.36 percent.

Voter Mikhail Saviychev, speaking to Reuters on March 1 outside a polling place in Vladimir, summed up the mood there. "In the army, they will be laying people off 200,000 people, and I am one of them, and I hope that if the Communists are in power, it might not happen. That's why I voted for them," he said.

Charges Of Manipulation

Throughout the campaign for the elections, the Communists and other parties complained bitterly that the system was being manipulated to benefit Unified Russia.

In a statement posted on the Communist Party website, party leader Gennady Zyuganov noted that he had just returned from Bryansk Oblast, while his deputy had been in Kabardino-Balkaria. Their assessment was harsh: "We have never seen the use of such dirty political tactics, ones so degrading to the voters, before," the statement read.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia, which polled around 10 percent in most regions, also complained at a Moscow press conference that the elections were manipulated.

"We are not happy and we disagree with the election results, we think our results have been understated," Zhirinovsky said. "These elections were skewed, just like the December 2007 [Duma] elections. There were a vast number of violations. We absolutely disagree with the view of the Central Election Commission that there were no serious violations."

In addition to the nine regionwide legislative elections, there were more than 3,000 local executive and legislative elections in cities and towns across the country. In all, elections were held in 79 subjects of the federation and some 20 percent of the total electorate of Russia was eligible to participate.

Some of the smaller races turned out to be surprisingly competitive, reflecting splits within the ruling elite. In the northern city of Murmansk, the mayoral election will be decided in a runoff between incumbent Mayor Mikhail Savchenko and Deputy Mayor Sergei Subbotin.

The race was scandalous because Murmansk Oblast Governor Yury Yevdokimov, a Unified Russia member, came out against his party's preferred candidate, Savchenko, and backed Subbotin.

In the Siberian city of Tomsk, the Unified Russia candidate, acting Mayor Nikolai Nikolaichuk, faced a stiff challenge from independent City Council Deputy Aleksandr Deyev. Nikolaichuk polled about 41 percent, with Deyev receiving 35 percent to force a second-round runoff.

In the Far East, the mayoral race in Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky will be decided in a runoff between incumbent Vladislav Skvortsov, of Unified Russia, and the city's social affairs manager, Mikhail Puchkovsky, who was backed by A Just Russia.

Neither the Interior Ministry nor the Emergency Situations Ministry reported any significant disturbances during the voting.

The voting was the first electoral test for Russia since Dmitry Medvedev was elected president one year ago, on March 2, 2008. Despite the worsening economic crisis in Russia, polls show popular support for Putin and Medvedev remains high.

According to a poll released last week by the Levada research center, 78 percent of Russians have a favorable view of Putin and 71 percent are positive about Medvedev. Those figures remain basically unchanged over the last year.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this report.
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