In local and regional elections marked by low voter turnout and fresh allegations of polling fraud, Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party claimed a landslide victory on Sunday. Putin’s allies preserved their seats in all five of the regional governor’s jobs up for a vote. And United Russia won most of the 4,848 local legislative seats and referendums up for a vote in 77 regions, according to preliminary returns. Some observers called the results a political comeback for the Kremlin party after a poor showing in the national parliamentary election held last December, when it won less than 50% of the vote amid widespread accusations of massive electoral manipulation. Putin thanked voters on Monday. “For me, the results of the vote are not unexpected,” he said in televised remarks. “I think it one more step confirming the voters’ intent to support the current authorities and the development of the Russian statehood.”
Pro-Kremlin analysts also hailed the returns as a powerful retort to the results in last year’s election, which brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets in a movement that shook Russia until the summer. “United Russia has taken its more-than-convincing revenge,” Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a Moscow-based think tank, said in an interview. Independent observers noted, however, a record low turnout of 13% to 20% in various contests and cited numerous reports of large-scale electoral manipulations. Grigory Melkonyants, a deputy chief of Golos, a human rights group monitoring Russian elections termed Sunday’s vote a Pyrrhic victory for the ruling party.