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Russia votes in long-protested elections

September 8, 2019

Municipal and regional polls have taken place across the country. Attention was focused on Moscow's parliamentary vote following a crackdown on independent candidates and some of their supporters.

An elderly woman with her dog holds a ballot before casting at a polling station during a city council election in Moscow l
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/P. Golovkin

Russians on Sunday voted in local and regional elections across the country. Polls closed at 8 p.m. Moscow time (1700 UTC), with meaningful results expected on Monday.

In Moscow, more than 7 million people were eligible to elect 45 lawmakers to the city parliament, which is dominated by President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party.

Read more: After 20 years, is Vladimir Putin's untouchable image crumbling?

Moscow vote

The result of Sunday's vote could help shape the country's political future, as Putin enters his third decade in power. The ruling party did not officially field candidates in the elections. Party members were instead running as independent candidates, apparently to distance themselves from United Russia's plunging approval ratings. 

Russians gear up to vote

Voter interest appeared low in the Russian capital, with just 17% of the electorate casting ballots as of two hours before the polls closed, reported The Associated Press news agency.

The Moscow vote is considered a test of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny's ability to mobilize the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections in 2021, especially after a major police crackdown on protesters.

Read more: Opinion: 20 years of Vladimir Putin destabilizing the world

'Smart voting'

Navalny has urged Muscovites to tactically cast their ballots in favor of those who are most likely to beat pro-Kremlin candidates. 

Read more: Moscow protests: 'It is our civic duty to go out on the streets'

Last month, about 50,000 people demonstrated on the streets against Moscow's decision to bar dozens of opposition candidates — many of whom are Navalny allies — from standing in Sunday's city election.

The often brutal arrests during the largely peaceful protests provoked international criticism.

Putin backed the crackdown, saying the government doesn't want to see violence similar to the yellow vest protests in Paris.

Read more: Russia protests: Police arrest hundreds at Moscow rally

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kw/aw (AFP, AP)