By Tom Kingsbury | Political Editor
In Russian local elections, opposition candidates have made some gains against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, though United Russia has maintained a majority of seats.
Elections were held in dozens of the country’s 85 regions, with voters electing regional governors, legislators, and members of parliament in several by-elections.
United Russia lost its majorities on the city councils of Novosibirsk and Tomsk, cities where opposition activitst Alexei Navalny campaigned before falling ill from what the German government has stated was Novichok nerve agent.
The elections were seen as a significant test ahead of national parliamentary elections next year. United Russia maintained a clear overall win in the election, though there were a number of reports of irregularities according to independent monitoring groups.
The popularity of United Russia has been waning in the public eye, due in part to economic difficulties, which have been exacerbated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Allies of Navalny won seats in Tomsk and Novosibirsk, Russia’s third largest city. These included the heads of Navalny’s offices in both cities.
United Russia lost 11 seats in Novosibirsk, dropping to 22 of the 50 seats in the city council, and losing majority control. Opponents also took control from the party in Tomsk, the city Navalny had been campaigning in before he collapsed on a flight on August 20.
Navalny has been recovering at a hospital in Berlin after being brought out of a coma. Posting on social media, Navalny told his followers he was able to breathe without ventilation, and a spokesperson announced he would be returning to Russia once he has recovered.
There is currently a police presence outside his hospital, the BBC reports. Labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent, the German government states. His team says he was poisoned on the orders of Putin, though the Kremlin denies this claim.
Navalny had been pushing a “smart voting” campaign, in which he encouraged the Russian electorate to vote tactically to unseat United Russia politicians, particularly those most in the most vulnerable seats.
Voting in the local elections was spread across three days, a move criticised by government opponents, who argued it made electoral fraud easier. The election’s organisers said that the measures were necessary to help lower the spread of COVID-19.
The independent election monitoring group Golos reported a number irregularities in the elections, including the obstruction of election observers, ballot-stuffing and officials switching ballot papers cast by real voters with false ballots.
The elections were the first votes in Russia since a July referendum allowed the possibility of President Putin to stay in power until 2036. The seven-day vote did not have independent scrutiny, and the results were described by Navalny as a “big lie”, not reflecting the public’s real opinions.
Nearly 77.9% of voters backed the reforms, with 21.3% voting against them, the Electoral Commission claimed.
Russia is ranked 3.11 out of ten on the democracy index (2019), positioning it at 134 out of the 167 countries rated.twitter Follow @gairrhyddpol for all of the latest updates from the world of politics.