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Russia holds polls for regional governors

Vote seen as key test for Kremlin

By AFP - Sep 13,2020 - Last updated at Sep 13,2020

A woman casts her ballot at a polling station in Novosibirsk, on Sunday (AFP photo)

NOVOSIBIRSK, Russia — Russians on Sunday voted in regional elections in 41 of the country's 85 regions.

Russians are voting for regional governors and lawmakers in regional and city legislatures as well as in several by-elections for national MPs.

Voters went to the polls on Sunday wearing compulsory masks and gloves and undergoing temperature checks to protect against coronavirus infection, AFP journalists saw in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk.

The vote is seen as a key test for the Kremlin as the United Russia ruling party that backs President Vladimir Putin faces a popularity crisis amid simmering public anger over falling incomes and economic woes.

In Novosibirsk, Russia's third largest city, Vladimir Semyonov, a 57-year-old retired army officer, told AFP he had voted for an opposition candidate, "to change something, so we don't have stagnation”.

The poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny Navalny could also influence voters.

After he was evacuated from Siberia to Berlin, German doctors said Navalny had been poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent.

His associates believe the use of the banned chemical weapon shows only the Russian state could be responsible.

Navalny has set up an online system to help voters back the strongest candidates against the ruling party.

He had been in Siberia to promote his "smart voting" campaign when he fell ill.


Reports of violations 


Elections in the country are for the first time being held over three days and some polling stations for early voting were open-air.

Early voting began on Friday and Sunday is the main polling day.

Several regions recorded large turnouts in two days of early voting, with over 50 per cent of the electorate casting ballots early in the far eastern Jewish Autonomous Region and in Tatarstan.

The independent election monitor group Golos said it received a "stream of reports" that observers had been denied their legal rights to view documents and submit complaints, with conflicts sometimes ending in "fisticuffs". 

It said it had also received reports of ballot stuffing and officials switching ballot papers cast by real voters for ones they had filled in.

Electoral chief Ella Pamfilova decried "unobjective and mean" accusations at a briefing. 

"Currently we do not see that many violations," she said.

The controversial three-day system was first used this summer for a national vote on constitutional amendments that made it possible for Putin to stay in power until 2036.


'First time I vote' 


One of the highest-profile campaigns is taking place in Novosibirsk, Siberia's largest city.

The head of Navalny's office in the city, Sergei Boiko, has created an opposition alliance to counter United Russia and the Communist Party.

Boiko's "Novosibirsk 2020" coalition has put forward around 30 candidates for the city legislature and campaigned with volunteers from Navalny's Anti-Corruption Fund.

"This is an opportunity to show the whole of Russia that democratic forces can unite," Boiko told AFP on Sunday.

One voter, Damir Adgamov, a 26-year-old dental technician, said he backed Boiko's coalition after watching Navalny's videos on YouTube.

"I decided to try," he said. "I don't know if things will be better with Navalny or Boiko or worse, but at least we'll see."

Boiko said his supporters had recorded some 50 violations, including an attempt to illegally remove observers while a safe containing early votes at one polling station had its seals broken.

"This means some people at night had access to ballot papers from previous days," he said.

Navalny's team has called for Russians "to lay United Russia low", pointing to previous electoral successes in places such as the far eastern city of Khabarovsk.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets there for the past two months over the arrest of a popular governor who defeated a ruling party incumbent in 2018.

The case of the former Khabarovsk governor and the protest movement in Russia's neighbour Belarus have sparked small-scale demonstrations in solidarity in Russian cities, suggesting there is potential for a protest vote.

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