Mon, Sep 09, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Russians head to the polls

AFP, MOSCOW

A man yesterday reads his ballot at a poling station in St Petertsburg, Russia.

Photo: AP

Russians yesterday voted in local elections after weeks of opposition protests in Moscow that led to the biggest police crackdown on dissent in nearly a decade.

Municipal and regional polls were held across the country, but attention focused on the Moscow Parliament vote following the arrest and jailing of independent would-be candidates and their supporters.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose allies were barred from running, urged voters to punish the Kremlin and support those with the best chance of beating members of the ruling party United Russia — mostly Communists.

Navalny has urged residents of other cities to vote strategically.

“This is our first experience of organized collective action,” he wrote on Saturday night.

Analysts say the polls will help shape Russia’s political future, as Russian Vladimir Putin enters his third decade in power.

They will also be seen as a test of 43-year-old Navalny’s ability to mobilize Kremlin critics ahead of parliamentary elections in 2021.

In recent weeks, tens of thousands have taken part in Moscow protests demanding a fair vote. Rap stars and prominent bloggers backed the demonstrations.

Authorities responded with a police crackdown — the biggest since a wave of protests in 2011-2012 against Putin’s return to the Kremlin after a stint as prime minister.

Authorities briefly jailed nearly all opposition politicians seeking to get on the ballot in Moscow. Several people were also imprisoned for alleged violence against police.

Putin voted in the Moscow election and his motorcade was seen traveling through deserted streets.

Asked if he wanted to see more candidates on the ballot, he said it was the “quality” that mattered, not the quantity.

Many disagreed, saying opposition candidates should have been allowed to run.

Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer for Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund who was barred from running, said the current elections had lost the last veneer of legitimacy.

“Of course no one wants to go to the polls,” the 31-year-old, who has emerged as the brightest star in a new generation of political challengers, told reporters.

Alyona Prokhorova, a 46-year-old mother of four, said she was so shocked by the clampdown that she signed up to be an election observer to monitor for possible irregularities.

“Moscow is against this hideousness,” she said at a polling station in the city’s southwest. “I still cannot get over it.”

Prokhorova said she backed Navalny’s strategic voting plan and her 18-year-old daughter would also cast ballot for the candidate he suggested.

About 7.3 million people are eligible to elect 45 lawmakers in the Moscow parliament, which is dominated by the ruling party, but not a single candidate is formally running on the United Russia ticket as the party’s popularity hits rock bottom.

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