Local elections kicked off in Russia this weekend in 79 regions, with voters are casting their ballots for governors, regional legislatures, city and municipal councils.
Russian authorities are also holding local elections in the four regions of Ukraine that Moscow annexed illegally last year — the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia provinces. Voting for federal and local legislators is also underway on the Crimean peninsula, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014. Balloting in the occupied areas of Ukraine has been denounced by Kyiv and the West as a sham and a violation of international law.
In Moscow, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin’s seat is up for grabs, although he is running for re-election again and is unlikely to lose a race in which all contenders come from Kremlin-backed parties. Sobyanin was appointed mayor in 2010 and has since won mayoral elections twice: in 2013, despite now-imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny running against him, and 2018. Governors in 20 other Russian regions are also vying for office this year.
In 16 Russian regions, voters are casting ballots for local legislatures. There are also multiple votes for city and municipal councils across the country and races for a few vacant seats in the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament.
In the majority of the Russian regions and in the occupied regions of Ukraine, polls opened on Friday and the voting lasts for three days, concluding Sunday. In other regions, voters can only cast their ballot on Sunday.
In over 20 Russian regions, including Moscow, online voting has been enacted, despite wide criticism by opposition figures who say it lacks transparency and could easily be rigged. It has also been made available in Crimea.
There are hardly any exciting races, notes political analyst Abbas Gallyamov, mainly because “the most important issue in Russian politics — the issue of war and peace — is not on the agenda at all.”
“The voter feels that, the voter sees that it’s not interesting,” Gallyamov, who once worked as a speechwriter for Russian President Vladimir Putin, told The Associated Press in an interview.
He said no one wants to campaign in favor of the war because it is not popular and it would affect their poll ratings. At the same time, it is impossible to campaign against the war because “you will be barred from running, thrown in jail and named the enemy of the country. So all candidates avoid this issue.
“The voters feel that the elections are not about what is actually real and important. The turnout will be minimal. These are empty elections,” Gallyamov said.