Russia’s opposition is alleging that nationwide local elections have been marred by widespread violations, including multiple voting and stuffing of ballot boxes.
Early partial results of the October 14 vote for offices in 77 of Russia's 83 regions have indicated victories for the ruling United Russia party of President Vladimir Putin.
Like last December’s parliamentary elections and the March presidential poll, opposition activists have accused authorities of an organized campaign to skew votes in favor of candidates who support the government.
The partially Western-funded Golos monitoring group said it had recorded more than 1,000 electoral violations nationwide.
Sergei Mironov, leader of the opposition A Just Russia party, said the timing of the elections -- on the second Sunday of October -- discouraged many people from going to the polls.
"People did not want to come and vote. It is clear. And we had warned and we continue to warn that low turnout always benefits the ruling party," Mironov said. "And it is clear that elections took place in empty cities since the single voting day is now on the second Sunday of October, when people haven't come back from their vacations yet, when people are still at their summer cottages."
Elections took place in 77 of the Russian Federation's 83 regions. In some cases, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
Observers from the independent monitoring organization Golos recorded more than 1,000 electoral violations nationwide, including voter roll irregularities and multiple voting.
In five regions, the post of governor was won by candidates from United Russia. In the mayoral and local legislature elections, United Russia also was in the lead.
A leading member of the United Russia party, Andrei Isayev, called his party's victory a "defeat" for the opposition.
"This isn't just United Russia's victory, but it is also the defeat of the opposition, working either within or outside the existing system," Isayev said. "The opposition that emerged about a year ago has failed to offer any coherent, clear, comprehensive program or lists of candidates."
Putin said the election results confirmed "the intention of voters to support the current institutions of government and the development of Russian statehood."
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has dismissed claims of violations, saying he knew of no “serious irregularities.”
Medvedev added that it appeared United Russia candidates had done well in the voting and that the party was on track to perform better than in the December State Duma parliament vote, in which it lost dozens of seats.
Most local and regional governments are already dominated by United Russia.
In some cases, fewer than 15 percent of registered voters cast ballots.
Direct Voting For Governors Again
The October 14 vote marked the first nationwide elections since Putin returned to office in the Kremlin in May to start an unprecedented third term as president.
October 14 also featured the first voting for regional governors since Putin abolished such votes in 2004. Putin said at the time that getting rid of gubernatorial votes was needed to protect Russia from separatism and crime.
Early results suggested that United Russia incumbents had won or were heading to victory in all five governorship races -- in the Amur, Bryansk, Novgorod, Belgorod, and Ryazan regions.
Popular votes for governors were restored in the wake of the mass public protests that began last December over alleged unfairness in Russia’s electoral system.
The move, however, has been criticized by Russia’s opposition as only imitating reform. The opposition says the authorities have introduced ways of “filtering,” or screening out, candidates who are not approved by the authorities.
Environmental activist and anti-Putin campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova, who ran for mayor of the Moscow Oblast town of Khimki, alleged a series of electoral violations in her region.
"Khimki citizens informed our headquarters that resident registration offices worked overnight and 200 new Khimki residents were registered just in one [election] district," Chirikova said.
"We are going to verify this information and see how it was possible that registration offices worked through the night before election day. This election is neither fair nor clean."
Reports of alleged violations were rejected by Chirikova’s opponent in the Khimki mayor's race, Oleg Shakhov, who is backed by United Russia.
"At the polling stations that I have visited, everything is going on quite calmly, and not only calmly but also in accordance with the law," he said. "I talked to various observers representing all candidates at other polling stations and no violations have been discovered there."
Leonid Ivlev, deputy chairman of the federal Central Election Commission, said the commission had received only 55 complaints of alleged violations on October 14. He accused opposition supporters of trying to manipulate the outcome of the elections.
With reporting from Reuters, AP, AFP, ITAR-TASS and Interfax