Russia regional vote: Polls close in key elections

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Opposition candidate Vladimir Andreichenko casts his ballot at a polling station in Kostroma (13 September 2015)Image source, AP
Image caption,
The Democratic Coalition was only allowed to stand in one region

Polls have closed in regional elections across Russia that are seen as a gauge of public opinion ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

About 59 million people - nearly half the population - were eligible to vote for 21 governors and 11 regional parliaments. Results are expected to be officially announced on Monday.

The opposition Democratic Coalition was only allowed to stand in one region.

The coalition includes the party of murdered politician, Boris Nemtsov.

It also includes the party of anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny. He cannot run for office as he is serving a suspended prison sentence in an embezzlement case that he argues was fabricated.

The Democratic Coalition led by him is only allowed to stand for election in the region of Kostroma, about 350km (215 miles) north-east of Moscow,.

In an interview with the AFP news agency on Sunday night, Navalny said the coalition's exit polls showed it had received 6% of the vote, sufficient to get a candidate into the regional legislature.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
About half of Russia's population were eligible to vote on Sunday
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Alexei Navalny (right) has complained about a crackdown on opposition members in Kostroma

The Russian parliament - or Duma - has been stripped of any real opposition under President Vladimir Putin, whose approval rating remains consistently high.

The elections will reveal the mood of Russians after more than a year of financial hardship caused mostly by low oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow's alleged military role in Ukraine.

The Democratic Coalition's campaign has not been easy - with minimal coverage on the state media and accusations that they are working for the US, reports the BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Russia.

Coalition candidates were barred from participating in legislative contests in the Kaluga, Magadan, and Novosibirsk regions.

The opposition say this was because of technicalities cited by officials in a politically motivated bid to prevent them from standing.

On Saturday, Navalny posted on Facebook (in Russian) about a crackdown on opposition members in Kostroma, saying he expected "major falsifications" in the polls.

Russia's main opposition groups combined forces in April, nearly two months after the murder of Mr Nemtsov, who was shot dead while walking with his girlfriend near the Kremlin.

The coalition, campaigning under Mr Nemtsov's party name Parnas, hopes the elections will be a springboard for the 2016 national parliamentary vote.