Cartoon by Hajo de Reijger

Putin’s party loses more than third of seats in Moscow poll

Financial Times: 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 against falling living standards, government corruption and moves to suppress opposition politicians, despite a police crackdown against demonstrations.

Candidates backed by a broad opposition movement claimed 20 out of 45 seats in the Moscow city council, according to official election data, while candidates backed by United Russia won 25. At the last election in 2014, United Russia took 38 seats including 10 won by independent candidates it had 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 the result of the normally low-key local elections will have little impact on how Moscow is governed, Sunday’s 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.

The ruling United Russia party was also routed in elections for the local parliament in the far eastern coastal region of Khabarovsk, winning just two out of 36 seats. However, its candidates comfortably won all the contests that took place on Sunday to elect regional governors, amid allegations of ballot stuffing in some areas.

Eleanor Bindman, at Manchester Metropolitan University, said it was important not to exaggerate the significance of the poll results “given that pro-Kremlin candidates in the more important gubernatorial elections elsewhere, such as St Petersburg, were elected as planned”.

But she added that the strong performance showed that the opposition was “capable of working together” and gave them “the opportunity to prove themselves at the local level”.

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 was successful.

Andrei Metelsky, head of United Russia’s Moscow branch, 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.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said on Monday that the election was “very, very successful for United Russia. It might have gotten more seats at some places and fewer at others, but on the whole, the party showed its political leadership nationwide.”

Trust in Mr Putin plummeted 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 fewer 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 and 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 and demonstrations in regional cities.