Even by Russian election standards – the kind that has given us 146 per cent voter turnouts – this was a magical turnaround. With 95 per cent of the votes counted in the gubernatorial elections in Russia’s far east Primorsky Krai, the Kremlin’s United Russia candidate, Andrei Tarasenko, was a full five points behind his challenger, Communist Andrei Ishchenko. But in a sensational final sprint, Mr Tarasenko added an improbable 13,000 votes, equating to nearly 100 per cent of the vote in the last 1 per cent of precincts. Even more miraculous was the fact his challenger Mr Ishchenko lost five votes in the process. Just days earlier, Mr Tarasenko received a personal endorsement from President Vladimir Putin. “I know you have a run-off coming up. I think everything is going to be fine,” Mr Putin said.
Mr Tarasenko’s apparently imminent defeat looked to be a slap in the face for the president and his controversial proposals to raise the pension age.
According to the official count, Mr Tarasenko had instead secured a wafer-thin majority, enough to see him sworn in as governor.
On Monday morning, the defeated candidate refused to concede. “Friends, they are stealing votes from us,” Mr Ishchenko wrote on Facebook. “I won this election … Let’s defend our victory right now! We will not leave until we see a just result.”