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Opposition Loss All But Official In Russian Regional Elections

Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny (center) and RPR-Parnas opposition party candidate Ilya Yashin (right) speak with voters in the town of Kostroma on September 13.
Russian opposition figure Aleksei Navalny (center) and RPR-Parnas opposition party candidate Ilya Yashin (right) speak with voters in the town of Kostroma on September 13.

As Russians awaited official word on the outcome of nationwide regional elections, the results did not look good for the opposition.

Preliminary results showed the ruling United Russia party winning regional polls across the country, with the Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia also taking legislative seats.

Left out of the elections in all but Kostroma Oblast, however, the beleaguered opposition led by the Parnas party fell short of its goal of winning seats in the impoverished region's duma.

The Kostroma regional election commission said on September 14 that according to preliminary results, Parnas had secured just 1.98 percent of the vote, while United Russia garnered just over 52 percent.

Despite initial optimism after unofficial exit polls showed Parnas, which represents the opposition umbrella group Democratic Coalition, getting 6 percent of the vote, election campaign chief Leonid Volkov conceded on September 14 that his party would not garner the 5 percent needed to take seats.

"The call center continues its work, the observers are counting the votes, the lawyers are assisting, too," Volkov wrote on Twitter. "It is clear we are not making it, but we will work till the end."

Volkov later confirmed to the Interfax news agency that his party fell short in Kostroma.

Final results are expected to be released later on September 14.

Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov hailed the success of the elections, noting on September 13 that there had been only 11 instances of physical confrontation between competing campaign participants.

"I think it is a brilliant result," Interfax quoted him as saying at the commission's information center. "The Americans have yet to try to hold such pure elections."

By the morning of September 14, however, 192 official complaints had been recorded nationwide and the Russian NGO Golos had registered more than 1,700 suspected violations, including more than 800 on election day.

Opposition activists and observers in Kostroma, located 280 kilometers northeast of Moscow, were reporting violations including so-called carousel voting, in which voters are bused to vote at multiple polling stations.

Khodorkovsky's Group Targeted

In the afternoon of September 14, police stormed the Kostroma offices of the independent election-monitoring group Open Elections organized by exiled tycoon and Kremlin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Police said they had responded to a call about a "conflict between citizens," but activists said the operation was apparently intended to prevent observers from exposing violations.

Police in Kostroma said on September 12 that they had confiscated 2 million rubles ($30,000) from an activist of Khodorkovsky's Open Russia nongovernmental organization.

A police statement alleged that "the money was to be paid out to the activists of radical youth groups who were planning unlawful actions" to disrupt the elections.

Election Commission Chairman Churov said that "outside forces" were interested in seeing the region's elections fail.

Ahead of the September 13 polls in Kostroma Oblast, Parnas's campaign encountered hurdles ranging from provocateurs disrupting stump speeches to physical abuse and spoiler parties designed to draw votes away.

United Russia Holds On

Elsewhere, preliminary results showed regional leaders representing the ruling United Russia party securing their posts.

Among them is Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov, whose election campaign was being watched closely as a test of the Kremlin's efforts to reduce the autonomy of regional rulers and to reserve the title of president only for the sitting president of the Russian Federation.

Straying from the trends emerging from preliminary results, the ruling United Russia party was not scoring clear victories in the southeastern Siberia region of Irkutsk, where none of the candidates managed to get more than 50 percent of votes, or in the southwestern region of Smolensk, where figures showed the Liberal Democratic Party's candidate leading.

The local election commission in Irkutsk announced that a second round for the election of the region's governor would be held on September 27.

A total of 59 million people -- nearly half the population of the Russian Federation -- were eligible to vote on September 13 in races that took place from the Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad to the Russian Far East.

At stake were more than 90,000 legislative seats and 1,300 regional offices, including 21 regional governorships and hundreds of mayoral mandates.

The voting is seen as a rehearsal for the 2016 elections to the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, which precedes a 2018 election in which President Vladimir Putin could seek a fourth term.

The elections tested the mood of the Russian electorate after more than a year of economic troubles caused mainly by low oil prices, Western sanctions over Moscow's interference in Ukraine, and Kremlin countersanctions that have barred imports of many Western foods and increased the country's isolation.

Nearly half the 187,000 candidates in the various contests were from the ruling, Kremlin-controlled United Russia party.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS
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