Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia Party swept local elections held March 13, according to early results released today.
The vote is seen as a test run indicating voters' leanings in the impending parliamentary and presidential elections, scheduled for December 2011 and March 2012, respectively. Opposition figures, however, say the vote was marred by fraud.
State Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, who is also chairman of United Russia's Supreme Council, hailed the win as an endorsement of the ruling party and the governing authorities.
"Voters have supported United Russia. This is an assessment of the party's activities. It is support for the authorities, support for the president, and for the leader of our party, [Vladimir] Putin," he said. "We were led to think there would be low turnout, that our voters are already apolitical. But the result is obvious."
United Russia won a combined total of 68 percent of seats in regional legislatures, down from the 76 percent it gained in regional elections last October. They also won elections to city legislatures, which were held in 10 provincial capitals.
Opposition figures say, however, that United Russia's performance was largely the result of electoral fraud -- including ballot stuffing and multiple voting -- and the authorities' ability to utilize so-called "administrative resources" to maximize the party's vote.
Golos, an independent monitoring group, said it had received 400 reports of voting violations hours before polls closed.
Alexei Chepa, a candidate for Tver's regional legislature from the party A Just Russia, called the campaign "crude and dirty," adding that "United Russia officials are using all the powers at their disposal to get the desired results."
Moreover, recent polls seem to indicate that United Russia's popularity is significantly lower than the election results indicate. A poll by the independent Levada-Center showed the party's popularity in January at its lowest level in more than a year, driven by an increase in the price of household electricity, gas, and other utilities.
Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent Moscow-based political analyst, told the radio station Ekho Moskvy that it was unlikely that United Russia would be able to win a majority in December's parliamentary elections.
United Russia dismissed the assertions and accused opponents of vote-buying and illegal campaigning in turn.
'More Than Satisfactory'
Putin, meanwhile, called the election results "more than satisfactory" and said the vote count confirmed people's trust in the government.
"That means that people, even though many of them are tired and feel pressure, continue to positively assess the government's actions and express hope by this vote that the situation will change," he said.
Russian Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov said the elections were highly competitive.
"The elections were held as scheduled with a high turnout of voters and a high level of competitiveness," he said. "In general, they were held in a calm atmosphere, although they were preceded by an acute political struggle, mostly within the law."
written by Courtney Rose Brooks, with agency reports