Putin Strengthens Grip on Russia


 MOSCOW—Allies of President Vladimir Putin swept Sunday’s regional elections, dashing Kremlin opponents’ hopes of winning greater representation amid allegations of widespread fraud and abuse in the voting.

The balloting was the first held since the Kremlin restored gubernatorial elections and loosened some electoral restrictions amid the mass demonstrations in the capital last winter against alleged vote fraud in the December 2011 parliamentary contest. But the fractured opposition has struggled to keep the protest momentum up in recent months as the authorities have increasingly clamped down on critics.

Mr. Putin and his allies cited Sunday’s vote results as evidence they enjoy strong popular support.

“After the presidential elections, this is the second very serious step in strengthening the Russian state,” Mr. Putin, who won a third term with 64% of the vote in March, told the head of the Central Election Commission Monday. “For me, these election results aren’t unexpected.”

The ruling United Russia party won all the major races Sunday—five regional governorships and dominant positions in six regional legislative assemblies—as well as numerous municipal contests, according to official results released Monday.

Opponents had hoped for stronger results, but managed to deliver decent showings in a few local races. A newly registered liberal party won a seat in a Siberian regional legislature. In Khimki, a Moscow suburb, environmental activist Yevgeniya Chirikova came in second to a Kremlin-backed candidate for mayor, winning 17% of the vote, an unusually high result for the opposition, according to official vote tallies.

Ms. Chirikova and other opposition leaders accused the authorities of widespread violations, including stuffing of ballot boxes and falsifying results. Golos, an independent group that monitors elections nationally, said abuses remained commonplace.

“We haven’t moved one iota from the critical situation,” Golos chief Lilia Shibanova told reporters Monday, citing “the total absence of real competition and the absence of real elections.”

Electoral officials rejected those allegations. Vladimir Churov, the head of the Central Election Commission, told Mr. Putin that there was no sign any of the “certain quantity of violations” reported by police could have affected election outcomes. Turnout was low in many races, but officials said results were in line with past elections.

Polls show support for Mr. Putin and the ruling party has been slipping in recent months. But the Kremlin took much of the potential drama out of the gubernatorial contests by appointing a string of new regional leaders in the months before the new law restoring the elections took effect. In another region, a strong potential rival to the ruling party was wooed with another government job to get him to drop out of the race.

Sunday’s results seemed to deepen the already significant splits within the opposition. Some blamed Kremlin critics for not working hard enough to broader their support outside the urban middle class.

“If we want to win in the future, it’s time to put an end to the whining,” Vladimir Milov, an opposition politician, said in a blog post Monday. “We need to boost turnout and develop candidates.”

But others said the Kremlin would never allow a fair electoral contest. “Oct 14 was another hard blow for those opponents of the authorities who take a constructive position and want to use legal instruments for political struggle, participating in elections,” Ilya Ponomaryov, a member of parliament, wrote on his blog. “We were shown clearly that it’s impossible to win against card-sharks and the Russian political casino can be taken only by force.”

                                                                                                                                                                           Associated Press


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here