MOSCOW -- More than 4,000 elections for regional assemblies and other offices are being held in 77 of Russia’s 83 regions.
The elections will see gubernatorial votes in five regions: Amur, Bryansk, Novgorod, Belgorod and Ryazan.
Incumbent governors backed by the United Russia ruling party are expected to win in all five regions.
Gubernatorial votes were abolished by President Vladimir Putin in 2004, and regional governors were subsequently picked by the president.
But popular votes for governors were restored in the wake of mass public protests that began in December 2011 over alleged unfairness in Russia’s electoral system. The move was criticized by Russia’s opposition as only imitating reform.
The voting is being seen as a test of the strength of Putin’s ruling United Russia party since the mass protests against Putin’s rule erupted last year and continued this year.
Putin returned to the Kremlin in May to start his third term as president after winning a March election.
Polls for six regional parliaments, various city councils, and mayor’s offices are also being held on October 14.
Russian environmentalist and opposition activist Yevgenia Chirikova
is running for mayor in the Moscow Oblast town of Khimki.
She described the vote as " a collision of two different systems of values: a system of parasites living off natural resources, who simply want to squeeze the last remaining money out of us, and, on the other hand, people who are simple residents and who are struggling against this system.
"I don't represent my own interests but first of all those of the people who really live in Khimki."
Russian election officials have released early preliminary results from some regional and local elections.
The Central Election Commission says that with 53 percent of the votes counted in an election for the local parliament of Russia's Far Eastern Sakhalin region, the ruling United Russia party was leading.
The tally showed United Russia with about 41 percent followed by the Communist Party with 17 percent and the Liberal Democratic Party with 9 percent.
About 8 percent of the votes were for the A Just Russia party while the Right Cause party had about 3 percent.
Meanwhile, leaders of United Russia claim they are on track to win a majority of votes for the Barnaul city council in central Siberia's Altai Krai.
Dmitry Medvedev brought back gubernatorial elections in his final days as president.
On the surface, the regional election reform appeared to be a swipe at a central policy of Putin, who abolished gubernatorial elections eight years ago to create a centralized system of governance widely known as the “power vertical.”
The opposition says the authorities have introduced ways of “filtering,” or screening, unwanted candidates.
The return of gubernatorial elections should represent a landmark event in Russian politics, but it has attracted little attention in the media.
There is what is known as a “municipal filter” -- a regulation requiring would-be candidates to gather signatures from local municipal deputies who are usually fiercely loyal to the ruling elite.
In elections in Belgorod Oblast, candidates from the communists, Russia’s second-most powerful party, and the center-left A Just Russia party, did not attempt to make it past this hurdle. In Novgorod Oblast, candidates from the parties were unsuccessful in doing so.
Nikolai Petrov, a regional politics expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, says the Kremlin removed or reappointed governors in 23 regions before the election reform came into force. Now, they will not face reelection until their terms expire in four to five years.
Petrov says this maneuver allows the Kremlin to safeguard against possible upsets in the near future.
"The meaning of these gubernatorial elections is more for the Kremlin to test the system and establish whether it is capable of sustainability without large-scale transformation or not," he says.
"They chose regions where they can be sure of the result due to enduring administrative control or those regions that are of less importance."
The opposition says authorities are using hefty administrative resources in order to get the results they want.
Petrov says he does not expect surprises at the polls for governor and regional parliaments. He says the most interesting battle will be for city councils and mayoral positions.
He says these would signal whether opposition sentiment concentrated in the capital has spread to the regions and help gauge the extent of public discontent in the regions.
With reporting by Reuters, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax