Sunday, 22 September, 2019

Russia's Ruling Party Takes A Hit During Moscow City Election

A woman exits a polling booth before casting at a polling station during a city council election in Moscow Russia Sept. 8 2019 Opposition declares tactical victory as ruling party loses 13 seats on Moscow city council
Patty Aguilar | 11 September, 2019, 02:33

President Vladimir Putin's ruling party, United Russia, has lost more than a third of seats in the Moscow parliament following a volatile election mired with protests.

Although Putin is technically an independent, he has strong ties to United Russia, which reportedly came away with only 26 of the Moscow Duma's 45 seats, a major drop from the 38 it held before. Two opposition parties, Yabloko and Beautiful Russia, won three seats apiece.

As Yabloko victor Daria Besedina pointed out, "these were not real elections" because many "genuine" opposition candidates were blocked from appearing on the ballot.

One 25-year-old Muscovite, a lawyer who gave his name only as Vladislav, said he had voted tactically for Sergey Mitrokhin, of the opposition Yabloko party.

Once Navalny and his associates understood they could not take part in the elections, they decided on the strategy of "smart vote", through which they recommended voters through a website to support the candidate with the best chance of defeating the party in power.

Prominent opposition politician Alexei Navalny and his allies saw the Moscow poll as an opportunity to make inroads against United Russia ahead of a national parliamentary election in 2021.

Vitali Shkliarov, a Russian political analyst, said Sunday was the first time legitimate opposition candidates were elected to the City Duma since the early 1990s.

With almost all votes counted, news agencies reported significant gains for independent, communist and liberal candidates against those allied with the ruling United Russia party.

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The Russian president has seen his popularity plummet to its lowest for a decade amid growing discontent with the capital seeing the largest and most vociferous anti-Putin protests since 2011 throughout the summer. In some places, it got more seats, in others fewer.

Multiple opposition candidates had been excluded from the ballot paper. The march, like many, had not been authorized to take place, a legal requirement in Russian Federation in recent years. "It could possibly have gotten extra seats at some locations and less at some others, but on the total, the occasion showed its political management nationwide", Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, instructed journalists on Monday.

Writing on his popular channel on the social media messenger, Telegram, Navalny called it a "fantastic result" and said it was proof his strategy, dubbed "Smart Voting" worked. The real Solovyev in the end was barred from the election and then jailed, leaving the spoiler as the preferred candidate for Navalny's tactical voting.

The most serious election day problems were reported in St. Petersburg, including attempts to bribe voters, commit fraud and assault observers.

But the main focus was on Moscow, where the Central Election Commission refused in July to register a large number of opposition candidates, saying they had failed to collect enough signatures from genuine backers.

But in either case, it showed the growing unpopularity of United Russia.

It was hard to assess how much of the result in Moscow reflected Navalny's tactical voting or people simply turning to the Communists.

Thousands were briefly detained in the protests, culminating in an estimated 50,000 attending a Moscow rally on August 10.

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