MOSCOW: Russians voted in local elections on Sunday that will test the popularity of President Vladimir Putin and his allies after a crackdown on opposition protests in Moscow.
Elections for municipal councils and regional governors took place across the country, but most attention was focused on Moscow, where tens of thousands took to the streets this summer after potential opposition candidates were barred from the vote.
Police detained hundreds of the protesters and while most were quickly released some faced serious charges. In the week before the election, five were sentenced to jail time ranging from two to four years.
The opposition has called for voters to punish the Kremlin and the ruling United Russia party at the ballot box.
“Today we are fighting to destroy United Russia’s monopoly,” the country’s main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, told reporters after voting in the capital.
Navalny’s allies were excluded from the election over alleged irregularities so he has put forward a “Smart Voting” plan.
It calls for voters to back the politician, whatever their affiliation, who has the highest chance of beating pro-Kremlin candidates. Most of them are Communists.
Analysts say the vote is a test run ahead of parliamentary elections due in 2021 — both of the opposition’s ability to mobilise support and the authorities’ willingness to tolerate dissent.
The atmosphere in the capital was festive, as the city this weekend celebrated the annual Moscow City Day with street parties, balloons and mass dance routines.
But for some voters the mood was grim.
Alyona Prokhorova, a 46-year-old mother of four, said she was so disgusted by the summer crackdown that she signed up to be an election observer for the opposition.
“Moscow is against this hideousness,” Prokhorova said at a polling station in the city’s southwest. “I still can’t get over it.” Prokhorova said she backed Navalny’s strategic voting plan and her 18-year-old daughter would also cast a ballot for the candidate he suggested.
Putin voted at his usual polling station at the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he appeared to dismiss the opposition’s concerns about barred candidates.
Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019