Russians headed to polls in regions throughout the country on Sunday to cast their votes in local elections set to test the dominance of United Russia, the party most closely associated with long-time President Vladimir Putin.
The elections, conducted over several days as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, with the main and final day of voting on Sunday, take place against the backdrop of months-long anti-Putin protests in the Far East and the near-fatal poisoning of dissident Alexei Navalny with the Soviet-developed nerve agent Novichok.
More than 1,000 complaints about possible election irregularities were filed, reported the independent election-monitoring group Golos.
"These include some cases of intentional vote tampering," said Grigory Melkonyants, co-head of the group.
Monitors have also reported that they have been kept from doing their jobs, sometimes with threats of violence. "There are also reports of forced voting and bribery in multiple regions," he said.
A nationwide survey by Russia's biggest independent pollster, Levada Centre, revealed last month that more than a quarter of Russians - 29 per cent - would participate in anti-government protests if held in their area.
Navalny's team urged Russians to vote for candidates from any party other than United Russia, which currently dominates the federal parliament and many regional administrations.
Any other candidate - "a Communist, a Liberal Democratic Party member, a Just Russia party member" - would be "better than United Russia," Navalny's team said in a statement on Friday, referring to Russia's four major political parties.
"Any of them will be a better representative for you than a thieving official who has been sitting for 20 years under a portrait of Putin and appearing in front of you every five years" to be re-elected, Team Navalny said.
Not monitored by OSCE
While Putin maintains the loyalty of United Russia, he is not a current member of any political party and is thus able to distance himself from unpopular measures initiated by subordinate senior officials.
The elections, like a recently-passed constitutional referendum to enable Putin to remain president for the next 16 years, were not independently monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The lack of presence by the OSCE, and the duration of the voting period being extended to several days, have raised concerns of the potential for falsifications.
Most results were not expected until Monday.
Nationwide there were more than 9,000 electoral races at different levels of government. Particularly important for the ruling party were the votes on new governors in 18 regions.
City council elections were also held in 22 cities. According to local election commissions, voter turnout varied and mostly hovered at more than 50%.