MOSCOW, March 2 – The United Russia party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has emerged as the clear winner of regional elections, underlining that it remains dominant despite the deepening economic crisis.,
However the opposition immediately criticised the vote, with the Communist Party alleging that "illegal campaigning" had skewed the results.
Russians were voting across 79 regions in various elections for regional parliaments, mayors and municipal councils, in the first nationwide vote since the economic slowdown struck last year.
The head of the Russian central elections commission, Vladimir Churov, said that United Russia was ahead in all nine regions where voting had taken place for regional assemblies, news agencies reported.
The party’s most crushing victory came in the central region of Tatarstan where it scooped up 86 out of the 100 seats available in the regional legislature on the back of a 78.44 percent turnout.
Only in two places — the southern Volgograd region and the Nenetski region in the country’s far north — did the party fail to muster a majority of votes amongst the electorate but still won by far the most seats.
United Russia candidates were also elected mayor in several large Russian towns, including the Urals Mountains city of Chelyabinsk and the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, Churov said.
He added that only 23 complaints had been received about the elections, 18 of which came from the Communist Party, which forms the only significant opposition to United Russia in the national parliament.
"We noted illegal campaigning, attempts to pressure voters, and the results are determined not by appealing to the voter, but by throwing in ballots through the early voting mechanisms," the Communist electoral headquarters chief, Ivan Melnikov, said as quoted by RIA Novosti news agency.
The online Russian newspaper Gazeta.ru calculated from the results that United Russia’s support had dipped slightly since similar local elections were held in 2007 from 63.3 percent to 58.5 percent.
Aside from Tatarstan, the strongest showings for United Russia came in the Caucasus republics of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia where it polled around 70 percent on the back of a massive turnout.
But in Volgograd region, part of Russia’s industrial heartland, it polled only 49 percent while in the Arctic Nenets region it received just 42 percent.
Other less-than-sweeping results came in the western Bryansk district where United Russia polled 53.9 percent and the northern Arkhangelsk region where it got 52 percent.
Aside from the Communists, the only alternatives to United Russia at the national level are the nationalist LDPR and the centre-left Fair Russia, both of which are loyal to the Kremlin and which critics dismiss as puppet parties.
The liberal opposition, including groups such as the reformist Yabloko party and the Solidarity movement led by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, is split and sidelined, and has no seats in the national parliament.