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Big losses for Putin's party in Moscow due to 'smart voting'

11 September 2019

Russia's ruling United Russia party has suffered major losses in Sunday's election to the Moscow city parliament, almost complete results show.

The ruling party had held 40 of the 45 seats going into Sunday's regional elections, but now control just 25 with the Communist Party of Russia and centre-left party Just Russia making gains.

The Communist Party was set to win 13 seats, up from five in 2014, final preliminary results showed.

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.

Pavel Golovkin  AP
A woman exits a polling booth before casting at a polling station during a city council election in Moscow Sept. 8 2019
Pavel Golovkin AP A woman exits a polling booth before casting at a polling station during a city council election in Moscow Sept. 8 2019

"We shouldn't forget that these were not real elections - a lot of genuine [opposition] candidates who would have won were not allowed to run", Besedina wrote on Twitter.

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.

Accusations of election fraud flew on all sides, as critics of Putin and his party filled social media with photo and video evidence of blatant ballot-box stuffing, and Russian telecom agency Roskomnadzor accused Facebook and Google of promoting the anti-United Russia protest movement and illegally displaying some election ads.

The result is clearly a setback, although not too shabby considering that no one actually ran as a United Russia candidate in Moscow. The head of the Moscow party organization, Andrei Metelsky, lost his bid for a council seat after a season of revelations by Navalny's organization about his wealthy lifestyle.

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Dissent in Russia is ruthlessly suppressed by Mr Putin, and Mr Navalny has been arrested many times by the Russian authorities.

With most opposition candidates disqualified, the Communists, independents and others gained seats. Indeed, the Liberal Democratic Party won all but one seat in the Khabarovsk City Duma and dominated in several other local elections including the mayoral vote.

"The elections have taken place without incident, in a working atmosphere".

Close Navalny ally Leonid Volkov linked the searches in five cities to the opposition leader's "Smart Voting" strategy. "But in general for the country the party showed its political leadership", said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

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Putin voting in the elections.

Moscow authorities chose to ban opposition candidates from running in the election in the summer, for dubious reasons including claims that some had petitioned to run using signatures of people who didn't exist or had died.

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

United Russia's own popularity is suffering from discontent over a move to raise the retirement age however at a time of steadily falling incomes.

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The decision to bar the candidates sparked a wave of protests, the largest since the massive 2011-12 protests against Putin's return to the Kremlin for a third term as president. A later sanctioned protest attracted some 60,000 people.

Big losses for Putin's party in Moscow due to 'smart voting'