A Russian opposition candidate is on track to win one of the gubernatorial runoffs that have left the ruling United Russia party scrambling to avoid defeat for its pro-Kremlin candidates.
In the September 23 runoff in the Far Eastern Khabarovsk region, partial results showed Governor Vyacheslav Shport of the ruling United Russia party trailing 40 percentage points behind opposition candidate Sergei Furgal, with 90 percent of the votes counted.
Furgal, a federal lawmaker from the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), edged out the incumbent in the first round but did not secure enough votes for an outright win
The vote in Khabarovsk is among four gubernatorial runoffs being held after incumbents or acting governors from United Russia failed to secure first-round victories in September 9 elections.
In one of the runoffs held on September 16, the Kremlin-backed candidate in the Far Eastern Primorsky region surged ahead at the end of the ballot count thanks to what election observers and opposition forces call a brazenly illegal effort to manipulate the results in Tarasenko's favor.
The results of that ballot between acting Governor Andrei Tarasenko of United Russia, who met with Putin shortly before the vote, and Communist Party candidate Andrei Ishchenko have now been invalidated, with election officials citing "serious violations."
In the September 23 vote in Khabarovsk, the election teams of both candidates reported voting irregularities.
Furgal's team reportedly filed 10 complaints. One of them is related to an incident at a polling station where a man in military uniform was photographed while filming inside a booth while a voter was inside.
Shport's supporters accused Furgal of illegal campaigning and of bribing voters.
In addition to the September 23 vote in Khabarovsk, a gubernatorial runoff was held on the same day in the central Vladimir region.
The United Russia candidate in Vladimir, incumbent Governor Svetlana Orlova, faced Vladimir Sipyagin of the LDPR after beating him by five points in the first round with 36.4 percent.
Orlova appeared to offer voters some introspection in a video she released days before the September 23 runoff.
"It seems like I tried -- and the results weren’t bad. So why wasn’t I able to reach many of you? You know how I answer that to myself? It means I did something wrong. I miscalculated somewhere," Orlova said.
Another gubernatorial runoff had been scheduled the same day in the Siberian region of Khakasia.
But incumbent Governor Viktor Zimin, who was appointed acting regional head by Putin in 2013 and won election later that same year, quit the race on September 21, citing poor health.
Zimin, the United Russia candidate, had finished well behind Communist candidate Valentin Konovalov in the first-round of voting on September 9, trailing his challenger by more than 12 points.
The regional election commission in Khakasia on September 22 announced that the runoff would now be held on October 7.
Kremlin critics consider both the LDPR and the Communist Party pliant tools in Putin's ruling system, and they back Putin's initiatives with some frequency -- particularly on foreign policy.
But the rivalry on the regional level is very real, and any LDPR or Communist victory is embarrassing for Putin and United Russia, which dominates politics nationwide.
The elections come amid widespread discontent with a Kremlin-backed plan to raise the retirement age that triggered waves of street protests and has dented Putin's approval ratings after its unveiling earlier this year.