Kremlin keeps its grip in elections, but critics make gains

International

In this August 2020, photo, provided by Alexei Navalny’s team, Ksenia Fadeyeva, right, poses for a photo with Alexei Navalny in Tomsk, Russia. Fadeyeva runs the regional headquarters in the Siberian city and is running for the Tomsk city council. Fadeyeva has secured a seat in the city council, according to preliminary results of the regional election that took place on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. (Andrei Fateyev/Alexei Navalny’s team via AP)

MOSCOW (AP) — The main Kremlin party has retained its dominance in regional elections across Russia, but the opposition made gains in some areas, according to early official results released Monday.

Voters in dozens of Russian regions cast ballots Sunday to elect regional governors, members of provincial legislatures and city councils. The vote comes weeks after the Kremlin’s most prominent critic, Alexei Navalny, was poisoned with Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

Sunday’s vote was an important test for Navalny’s supporters, who were campaigning to win seats in several regional legislatures.

Navalny, who fell ill on a domestic flight in Russia on Aug. 20, was rushed to hospital in Germany. Specialist labs in France and Sweden have confirmed Navalny was poisoned with Novichok. Navalny’s associates have accused the Kremlin of ordering the poisoning, a claim Russian officials have vehemently rejected.

Last week, the hospital treating Navalny said his condition has improved, allowing doctors to take him out of an induced coma.

In the city of Novosibirsk, which Navalny visited days before falling ill, the head of his regional headquarters, Sergei Boiko, won a seat in the city council.

And in Tomsk, the Siberian city where Navalny departed from when he collapsed on the plane to Moscow, his representative Ksenia Fadeyeva also secured a city council seat.

In many regional races, Navalny’s supporters have pushed a “smart voting” strategy urging voters to support the candidates who have the best chance of defeating those who run on the United Russia tickets irrespective of their political affiliation.

That approach seemed to work in some of the races, with candidates with the Communist Party, socialist-oriented Just Russia and the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party posting gains in some regions.

The impact of those gains is yet to be seen because while the three parties are nominally in opposition, they usually vote in line with the Kremlin on all key issues.

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