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Angered Over Pension-Reform Plan, Russians Vote In Local Elections

Protesters against the pension reform in Moscow on July 19

Voters in regions across Russia head to the polls on September 9 for regional and local elections being held in an atmosphere of unusual public discontent sparked by a controversial government plan to raise retirement ages.

According to the Central Election Commission website, 21 of the 85 administrative areas of the Russian Federation, including the city of Moscow, will select executive-branch heads. Sixteen regions will elect legislatures. Other areas will be holding mayoral and other local votes.

The vote will be the first major test for the government of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev since it proposed raising the retirement age for men from the current 60 to 65 and, for women, from 55 to 63. Later, Putin modified the proposal so women would retire at age 60.

According to various polls, about 90 percent of Russians oppose the initiative, and a recent poll by the Levada Center polling agency found that more than 50 percent of Russians say they would participate in protests against it.

A portrait of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin is held aloft during a protest rally against a government-proposed pension-reform plan in Moscow on September 2.
A portrait of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin is held aloft during a protest rally against a government-proposed pension-reform plan in Moscow on September 2.

Approval ratings for Putin, Medvedev, and the ruling United Russia party have fallen noticeably since the proposal was passed in its first reading by the Duma in July.

"In this situation, the authorities are interested in suppressing turnout a bit and making sure only 'their' electorate shows up and votes the way they are supposed to," Stanislav Andreichuk, an elections analyst with the independent Golos election-monitoring group, told RFE/RL. "They will do what they can to get protest voters to stay home."

Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has called for nationwide protests against the pension reform to coincide with the September 9 voting. A court on September 5 upheld a 30-day jail sentence against Navalny on what authorities say were violations of the law on public gatherings and protests related to street rallies in January.

On September 7, Russia's Supreme Court upheld a decision to bar the opposition PARNAS party from participating in legislative elections in Yaroslavl Oblast. Previously, the region was the only one in Russia with PARNAS deputies in its legislature.

Earlier in the week, PARNAS lawmaker Sergei Balabayev was attacked by unknown assailants, while a PARNAS local councilman, Dmitry Bondaryov, had his car set on fire.

In Moscow, incumbent Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, Putin's former chief of staff who has run the capital since 2010, was expected to receive about 70 percent of the vote.

Two independent liberal candidates were not allowed to run against him, while his four registered opponents are virtual unknowns.

Moscow has implemented an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign, including promises of free concert tickets to voters and setting up polling stations outside of Moscow to enable voters spending the summer at their dachas to participate.

With reporting by Reuters