Russian President Vladimir Putin got a taste of public anger at his plans to increase the pension age as voters turned on the ruling party in regional elections and hundreds were arrested at protests against the reform.
United Russia’s candidates for governor in four regions, mostly in the country’s east, were forced into runoffs after failing to win majorities in elections Sunday. They trailed Communist and nationalist opponents in two of the races, gaining as little as 32% support in elections that are usually tightly controlled by the Kremlin to deliver rubber-stamp endorsements of its candidates.
“These elections are a defeat for the authorities,” said Valery Solovei, a political analyst at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. “This is how the fall in Putin’s ratings manifests itself.”
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More than 1,000 people were arrested in nearly 40 cities at opposition protests over the changes to pensions that coincided with the vote, according to OVD-Info, a rights-monitoring organization. They including 452 in St. Petersburg where riot police were filmed beating demonstrators with batons.
United Russia also suffered defeats to the Communists in party-list votes for three regional parliaments. It’s the first time since 2007 that it failed to win party elections, Vedomosti reported. The pro-Putin party retained its grip on power in 17 other gubernatorial elections including for mayor of Moscow, where Sergei Sobyanin won 70% of the vote on turnout of just 31%. Its strong showing came in part thanks to strict restrictions that prevented opposition candidates getting on the ballot, as well as domination of state media.
The results had some “rough edges” and they will be dealt with, Putin said during a State Council meeting on Monday in Vladivostok. Runoff votes in some areas are an “absolutely normal” event, he said.