Amid claims of fraud, Anatoly Pakhomov, the pro-Kremlin candidate in mayoral polls for the Russian city of Sochi, won a landslide victory in an election seen as a test of the political climate under President Medvedev.
Pakhomov has won the election - but did he do it fairly?
Amid claims of electoral fraud, Anatoly Pakhomov, the pro-Kremlin candidate in mayoral polls for the Russian city of Sochi, scored a landslide victory in a race seen as a test of the political climate under President Dmitry Medvedev.
Pakhomov, representing Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, won with 77 percent of Sunday's vote but his victory immediately led to accusations of "flagrant falsifications" from the leading opposition candidate Boris Nemtsov.
Sochi election's commission spokeswoman Valentina Tkachyova said that, with all the ballots counted, acting Mayor Pakhomov had 77 percent of the vote.
Kremlin critic Nemtsov was a distant second with 13.6 percent.
An exit poll organized by Nemtsov indicated that Pakhomov in fact secured only 46.5 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off against Nemtsov, while Nemtsov himself scored 35.2 percent and Communist Party candidate Yury Dzaganiya 15.4 percent.
Claims of monopolized media and manipulated voters
Boris Nemtsov leveled some serious allegations at his rival
Nemtsov and Dzaganiya said Pakhomov had monopolized the media in Sochi, dominating local news while banning political posters and paid-for television campaign ads by his opponents. They accused the authorities of using loosely regulated early-voting ballot papers to secure the votes of state workers for Pakhomov.
The election commission said almost one in four votes were cast before polling day, a level that the independent monitoring body Golos said was around 10 times higher than normal for Russia.
"These results suggest over 90 percent of early votes were for Pakhomov. It's like (democracy in) North Korea," Nemtsov said. "We are preparing legal action against the result."
Nemtsov's campaign manager, Ilya Yashin, estimated that early balloting had not topped five percent, but that the figure had "suddenly" doubled as vote counting started after the close of polls, and he accused officials of falsifying the figure.
A test of democracy
The Sochi election is seen as a test for Russian democracy
The accusations of fraud tarnish a race which was being closely watched after President Medvedev portrayed the Sochi vote as "a full-scale political battle" which was "good for democracy" in an interview with opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta last week.
Dzaganiya said the results indicated Medvedev had failed that test. "Democracy is not moving forward, it is going backwards," he said. "Russia is turning into a dictatorship of the ruling class."
The stakes were always going to be high in the election with the winner getting more than just the job of mayor as his reward for victory. The budget allotted for turning the dilapidated Soviet-style Black Sea resort town into an Olympic host city, and the significance of running the city during the Olympics, will give the victor considerable political influence in Russia.
Moscow has earmarked about $12 billion to upgrade the town's Soviet-era infrastructure and build new facilities from scratch in preparation for the Olympics.