A Russian politician whose hunger strike drew attention to allegations of electoral fraud in a mayoral vote announced plans on Monday to end his protest on its 40th day, saying he had achieved his goals.
Oleg Shein, a former Russian parliament member, stopped eating on March 16 to protest his loss of the mayoral election in the city of Astrakhan to a candidate from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
Shein’s strike has become a focus point for Russia’s political opposition as it seeks to ignite protests after Putin’s presidential election win and chip away at his power base in local contests.
In a sign the Kremlin felt pressure from Shein’s strike, Russia’s chief election official last week watched hours of footage from polling places — some of it during an all-night viewing with Shein in Moscow.
The election chief, Vladimir Churov, acknowledged the videos revealed procedural violations at a majority of the polling places, but said he saw no evidence of fraud that would affect the result.
Shein had initially called for authorities to throw out the electoral results, but on Monday he cast Churov’s admission as a victory and said he hoped a lawsuit he filed would result in a new election.
“On Friday we heard the verdicts against the thieves and fraudsters of Astrakhan from the mouth of Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov, who said the law was broke in 129 of 203 polling stations,” he wrote in a blog.
Shein said about 30 supporters would also end their hunger strikes and that he would end his when the rest of his supporters detained during protests are released, a goal he added more recently.
“I want to say a huge thanks to all those who have helped and are helping us,” said Shein, who lost 14kg during the strike and now weighs 64kg.
Shein has not blamed Putin directly for the outcome of the vote, but his plight put Putin in the spotlight when members of Shein’s party, Just Russia, walked out of parliament in protest after Putin deflected a question about the strike.
Putin starts a six-year presidential term on May 7 and while his election win implies that he remains popular, his party has been weakened in a series of votes in the past two years and street protests over the winter damaged his aura of invincibility.