By Stefan J. Bos
Russians, including many wearing face masks because of the coronavirus, also gathered to vote in Russia's third-largest city Novosibirsk. Here supporters of the allegedly poisoned prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny brought together the opposition to counter United Russia party and the Communist Party.
It's one of the dozens of regions where Russians voted for regional governors and assemblies. There were also four by-elections for national legislators and other polls in Russia.
Nearly 160,000 candidates are vying for seats in the local parliaments. The suspected poisoning of opposition leader Navalny with the chemical agent Novichok overshadowed the ballot.
Navalny, who fell ill in August in Russia, is now being treated in Germany. Last week, doctors in Berlin's Charité hospital said he was out of an induced coma, and his condition had improved.
Russian expert Fred Weir suggested the Kremlin and Russian President Vladimir Putin are closely watching the poll. He said they want to know the strength of United Russia as the regional elections are a dry run for the parliamentary vote next year. United Russia, "That is the pro-Kremlin party. So symbolically, you can say that this is sort of a test for Putin. But really the party leader is Dmitry Medvedev, the former prime minister," he explained.
"And in various regions, it will use all its administrative resources and all of its advantages to holding on to power. In most places, it probably will. But there are some trouble spots where there has been a build-up of local resentment,” Weir stressed, referring to Navalny strongholds and other areas.
Opposition leader Navalny was backing main challengers to United Russia, describing it as the "party of crooks and thieves." His team urged Russians to vote tactically to channel support towards candidates best placed to defeat United Russia.
Sunday was the primary day for tens of millions of voters across 11 time zones, with more than 56,000 polling stations prepared. These were the first elections since controversial constitutional reforms were approved in a July referendum. They allow President Putin to stay in power until 2036.