Russian regional elections have tightened Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and underlined opposition failure to build street protest into an effective challenge at the start of the president’s six-year term. Ten months ago, suspicions that fraud propelled Putin’s ruling United Russia party to victory in a parliamentary election brought tens of thousands of people into the streets of Moscow for the biggest protests of his 12 years in power. As United Russia celebrated victory on Monday in local and regional elections that its foes alleged were just as dirty as the December vote, one opposition leader tweeted that nationwide protests were imminent. “The authorities leave the people no choice!” opposition lawmaker and protest leader Dmitry Gudkov wrote on Twitter. The tweet sounded more like a plea than a prediction.
There was no sign of such a spontaneous outburst. “There is clearly no potential for any repetition of what happened in December, when people went into the streets saying they didn’t believe the election results,” said political analyst Pavel Salin. “This is out of the question now.” The opposition’s limited reach was underlined by the elections on Sunday, which protest leaders had held out just a few months ago as a key step in eroding Putin’s hold on power. United Russia won all five governorships at stake in the first elections of regional leaders since Putin scrapped them in favour of appointees during his initial 2000-2008 presidency.