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Recapping Sunday's elections: United Russia sweeps gubernatorial races, while ‘United Democrats’ break through in Moscow

Source: Meduza
Maria Tsvetkova / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On September 10, local elections took place in 82 of 85 regions across Russia. There were governors’ races in 16 federated states, including Buryatia, Udmurtia, Mordovia, Karelia, the Sverdlovsk and Novgorod regions, Perm Krai, the Republic of Mari El, and Sevastopol (in Crimea). Ahead of the voting, one of the biggest campaign events occurred in the Sverdlovsk region, where Yekaterinburg Mayor Evgeny Roizman was barred from running for governor, after failing to collect enough signatures from municipal deputies to make it onto the ballot.

In six regions, Russians elected new parliaments, and there were special elections in the Leningrad and Bryansk regions for single-mandate seats in the federal State Duma vacated by deputies who resigned their office. One of these people was former State Duma Speaker Sergey Naryshkin, who accepted an appointment as director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. Yakutsk voted on a new mayor, and another 11 regions elected deputies for city councils. Municipal council elections also took place in the Altai Territory and in Moscow, where opposition and independent candidates ran for office in all 125 districts of the city.

All sitting and acting governors — every one of them a candidate from United Russia, the country’s ruling political party — won their elections in Russia’s 16 governors’ races. In Buryatia, Alexey Tsydenko won more than 87 percent of the vote; in the Sverdlovsk region (where Roizman wasn’t allowed to compete), Evgeny Kuivashev won more than 61 percent; and in Sevastopol, Dmitry Ovsyannikov (whom United Russia endorsed, even though he’s not a member) won the election with more than 71 percent of the vote. Thirty-year-old Anton Alikhanov, the youngest governor in the country, went from acting governor to elected governor in Kaliningrad, Russia’s European exclave, where no regional head has ever served more than a single term in office.

Here’s the list of all governors elected in Sunday’s voting:

  • Adygea — Murat Kumpilov (elected by deputies of the republic’s State Council)
  • Belgorod — Evgeny Savchenko
  • Buryatia — Alexey Tsydenov
  • Kaliningrad — Anton Alikhanov
  • Karelia — Artur Parthenchikov
  • Kirov — Igor Vasiliyev
  • Mari El — Alexander Evstifeyev
  • Mordovia — Vladimir Volkov
  • Novgorod — Andrey Nikitin
  • Perm Territory — Maxim Reshetnikov
  • Ryazan — Nikolay Lyubimov
  • Sevastopol — Dmitry Ovsyannikov
  • Sverdlovsk — Evgeny Kuivashev
  • Saratov — Valery Radaev
  • Tomsk — Sergey Zhvachkin
  • Udmurtia — Alexander Brechalov
  • Yaroslavl — Dmitry Mironov

In Moscow, candidates from the “United Democrats” won majorities on 10 municipal councils in different districts across the city, including the Gagarin District, where President Putin cast his ballot on Sunday. The “United Democrats” are a group of independent and opposition candidates, including individuals from the Communist Party and the “Solidarity” movement (with some coordination with the liberal political party Yabloko in certain districts). Former State Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov and former Moscow municipal deputy Maksim Kats organized the democrats’ coordinating group.

In Moscow’s Khamovniki District, where former Meduza correspondent and current Novaya Gazeta reporter Ilya Azar won office as a municipal deputy, United Russia members failed to win a single of the district’s 16 municipal seats. Preliminary data indicates that the opposition won almost 10 percent of the city’s municipal seats: 141 mandates in 37 different districts out of a total of 1,502 seats. For an opposition candidate to pass the “municipal filter” and make it on the ballot in next year’s Moscow mayoral election, they will need the support of at least one municipal deputy in at least 110 different districts.

The liberal political party Yabloko announced that 180 of its candidates won municipal seats in 61 districts. In the Gagarin District, for instance, all 12 new municipal deputies were Yabloko candidates. The party’s press office says these results should be enough to allow Yabloko to overcome the municipal filter in the 2018 mayor election. Both Sergey Mitrokhin, the head of the party’s Moscow branch, and Dmitry Gudkov have previously stated their intentions to seek Yabloko’s endorsement.

Voter turnout was low. In Moscow, turnout came in at just 14.8 percent. For comparison, this figure was 32 percent in the city’s September 2013 mayoral election. The highest voter turnout recorded — 71 percent — was in Mordovia’s gubernatorial elections. In other regions — Karelia, Novgorod, Kaliningrad, Kirov, and Yaroslavl — turnout ranged from 23.5 percent to 28 percent. Thirty percent of voters came to the polls in Sevastopol, 37 percent turned out in Mari El, and 39 percent voted in Perm. These results are all significantly lower than the previous gubernatorial elections in these regions. Almost 49 percent of the electorate voted in Perm’s 2000 gubernatorial election, and more than half turned out in Karelia in 2002.

Election violations were recorded mainly in Moscow. Before voting even began, Russia’s capital deliberately reduced media coverage of the elections to a minimum. The decision to withhold “information support” to the elections was supposedly made by Deputy Mayor Anastasia Rakova, in order to ensure that only “agreed-upon candidates” won office. A day before the voting, hidden camera footage appeared on YouTube, showing Svetlana Antonova, a top deputy official in Moscow’s Novo-Peredelkino District, passing envelopes filled with “compensation” and “advance pay” to voting precinct chairpersons, and discussing how to record turnout and count ballots. Hours after the video leaked, City Hall fired Antonova and all top officials on her district council, and reshuffled the voting precinct chairpersons, according to a tweet on Saturday by Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.

On September 10, Central Elections Commission head Ella Pamfilova reported that complaints about voting violations have been filed in Moscow. Pamfilova said her commission received more than 500 complaints on its “hot line” in Moscow — more than anywhere else across the country. She also promised to “draw conclusions” about the work of Moscow Elections Committee head Vladimir Gorbunov.

The election-monitoring nongovernmental organization “Golos” reported 700 violations in nationwide voting. According to the group’s co-chairman, Grigory Melkonyants, most of these irregularities were recorded in Moscow (284 violations), followed by Saratov (77) and Krasnodar (47). Melkonyants says observers witnessed ballot-stuffing, buying votes through lotteries and competitions, and early voting violations. In Saratov, Governor Valery Radayev announced that Mayor Valery Sarayev has resigned, due to the high number of election violations.

Sergey Mitrokhin, the head of Yabloko’s Moscow branch, has complained about ballot stuffing, an “anomalous” number of requests for “mobile ballot boxes” used in home voting, and cases where precinct officials barred monitors, forbade filming, and “tried to register unknown persons without passports.”

Mordovia’s election commission recorded an unsuccessful ballot-stuffing attempt at a voting station in Saransk, as well as suspicious ballots cast at another precinct in the region. Investigators have opened a case to study the matter, and all votes cast at these precincts have been annulled. According to the election commission, the canceled votes will not affect the election’s outcome.

The social movement “Rossiya Vybirayet” (Russia Chooses) fielded polling station observers from eight different parties (including all parties represented in Russia’s State Duma) in 17 different regions. Its monitors observed attempts to buy votes in Yaroslavl’s municipal elections at 200 rubles ($3.50) per voter. Monitors also noted attempts to ban filming at polling stations in Vladivostok, Krasnodar, and Perm. The movement’s activists shared all their information about voting violations with local police.

Police have also opened a criminal investigation in response to allegations of vote buying in the Leningrad Region’s Vsevolozhsk District municipal elections.

Russian text by Sasha Sulim, translation by Kevin Rothrock