Russians are voting in regional and local elections in a scattering of locations across the country, choosing governors or lawmakers in the first vote to be held since the invasion of Ukraine nearly seven months ago.
The 9/11 election is not expected to result in major political changes at the national or local level, and the war in Ukraine has featured only in isolated instances in pre-election campaigns. On the contrary, local issues such as investments in public transport or environmental concerns, or the decrepit housing stock, topped the list of campaign issues in many places where votes were being held.
A total of 15 regions – scattered from the Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad to Buryatia in southern Siberia – will choose new governors or senior managers for their regions. Voters in six regions were also choosing new members for local legislatures.
In Moscow, voters were allowed to vote as early as September 9 to choose members of 125 district councils: local legislative councils that mostly decide on extremely local issues such as new playground equipment, garbage removal or other quality of life issues.
With the vote underway, the chair of Russia’s Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said she had sent a letter to regional election commissions recommending that they submit the vote tally no earlier than September 14.
Usually, election results in Russia are announced either immediately after the polls close or the next day.
Pamfilova said the extra time would allow her commission to “carefully” consider all voter complaints, although she also noted that so far only 10 of the 82 election-holding regions had recorded any complaints. such reports.
People interviewed on the streets of Moscow this week by RFE/RL’s Russian service had mixed feelings about whether to vote and whether it served any purpose.
“If you personally feel like voting, why not go ahead and participate?” a man, who did not give his name, said while standing at the Universitet metro station. “Personally, I won’t bother.”
“There are rules and we live in this system, we work here, so we have to live by the rules of the system,” said another man, who also did not give his name. “Therefore, if they tell me I have to go, I will go and vote.”
Since before the invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin has slowly pressed independent opposition parties and civil society groups for good governance. The result was a tightly controlled electoral process dominated by United Russia, the Kremlin-linked political party and about three other so-called systemic political parties – the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia. All regularly vote in favor of Kremlin initiatives.
The United Russia candidates were expected to easily win most of the races in the 9/11 vote.
The main independent opposition force remains the network set up by Aleksei Navalny, the anti-corruption crusader who nearly died after being poisoned with a nerve agent and is currently serving a prison sentence in central Russia for accusations widely seen as politically motivated.
Ahead of the national parliamentary vote last September, Navalny’s group implemented a system called Smart Vote, which aimed to undermine United Russia’s grip on politics by directing voters to alternatives most likely to cause upheaval. .
The group rolled out a Smart Vote program for the 9/11 elections; however, Leonid Volkov, a prominent Navalny MP who now lives outside Russia, said he was only targeting Moscow, where voters tend to be more liberal and often more politically engaged.
The reason, he said in an interview with the online newspaper Novaya gazeta, is that many potential candidates supported by Smart Vote support the ongoing war in Ukraine.
“Any action aimed at undermining the Putin system is correct and a citizen’s duty,” Navalny supporters said in a statement on his YouTube channel. “Participation in elections is certainly not the most effective way today, but the easiest way to fight.”