Russia’s ruling party has lost more than a third of its seats in Moscow’s city council as angry voters delivered a strong rebuke to President Vladimir Putin after a summer of discontent in the country’s capital.
The local ballot followed months of protests that saw voters take to the streets amid anger over falling living standards, government corruption and moves to suppress opposition politicians, despite a police crackdown against demonstrations.
While the results of the normally low-key local elections have little impact on how the city is governed, the ballot was seen as a barometer of dissatisfaction with Mr Putin, ahead of parliamentary elections in 2021 and his potential handover of power in 2024.
Candidates backed by a broad opposition movement were set to claim 20 of Moscow city council’s 45 seats, according to official election data on Monday, with candidates backed by United Russia, the ruling party, winning 24. At the last election in 2014, the party won 38 seats including 10 won by independent candidates it backed.
“I called on everyone to come to the polls and choose deputies worthy of their opinion, and this is the opinion of Muscovites,” said Valentin Gorbunov, chairman of the city’s electoral commission. “Our task is to organise a vote in accordance with the law . . . Let political scientists evaluate the results.”
While some of the opposition parties that won council seats are considered to have the Kremlin’s backing, the results suggest that a campaign led by activists to encourage citizens to vote tactically to stop United Russia candidates winning was successful.
The head of United Russia’s Moscow branch, Andrei Metelsky, lost his seat that he had held since 2001.
“This is a fantastic result for smart voting. We fought for it together. Thanks to everyone for their contribution,” said Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition activist who was imprisoned during the protests.
Trust in Mr Putin plummeted earlier this year after a pension reform that forced Russians to work five years longer, a rise in VAT and a fifth consecutive year of falling household incomes. National polls show less than half of voters think his government is doing a good job.
Protests erupted in Moscow in July after a dozen opposition candidates were barred from running in Sunday’s election. Officials said they had not collected enough authentic signatures, something the candidates denied.
The move sparked mass weekly demonstrations that attracted up to 60,000 people, despite heavy-handed crackdowns by riot police that left many protesters injured, resulted in thousands of arrests with some activists sentenced to years in jail.
That followed other protests in Moscow against the arrest of a journalist on false charges and demonstrations in regional cities.