Russia vote setback for anti-Putin opposition coalition

A man casts his vote in Kostroma (13 Sept) Image copyright AFP
Image caption The liberal opposition was not allowed to fight in big cities and complained of a "real war" waged against its campaign

Russia's liberal opposition has conceded defeat in regional elections, seen as a test of public opinion ahead of the 2016 national ballot.

The official count gives Parnas just over 2% of the vote in Kostroma, the only region where the party was registered to field candidates.

President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party notched up strong wins across the country.

In some regions its candidates for governor took over 90% of the vote.

"Let the Americans try to hold such clean elections!" proclaimed a satisfied election chief, Vladimir Churov, adding that a mere 11 instances were recorded of candidates resorting to fisticuffs.

Independent monitoring group Golos, however, noted more than 1,700 suspected violations of the electoral law. But it says that, this time, most of the damage was done before election day.

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Media captionSarah Rainsford met Ilya Yashin in Kostroma

For the liberal opposition in Kostroma, the result is well below the required threshold to enter the local parliament and the party itself admits that even its own count falls far short.

"A real war was waged against our team," its chief candidate, Ilya Yashin, complained on Facebook on Monday, claiming that the orders came from the Kremlin.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Parnas is a coalition of opposition groups that include Alexei Navalny's Progress party

"We were not to be permitted to clear the threshold, under any circumstance," he argued.

Mr Yashin pointed to a smear campaign in state media and propaganda against him, including an especially-created newspaper that "outed" him as gay with graphic imagery.

Pro-Kremlin activists even attached fake, US diplomatic licence-plates to a car and filmed it at a campaign rally, to "prove" that the opposition are treacherous puppets of the West.

And by allowing them to run only in largely rural Kostroma - when most opposition support is in big cities - activists argue they were set up to fail.

Image caption The level of interest in Kostroma was far removed from the thousands who rallied against the government following the last election

Co-founded by politician Boris Nemtsov - who was shot dead in February - Parnas represented a coalition of opposition groups including the Progress party of Alexei Navalny.

They led the mass protests that followed allegations of vote-rigging at the last, national elections - the most significant challenge yet to President Putin's rule.

Pro-Kremlin commentators and media have hailed the Kostroma result as a disaster for the liberal opposition and a triumph for United Russia.

Whilst President Putin undoubtedly remains highly popular, opposition activists argue this was not a fair fight and have vowed to go on.

They point to the immense resources deployed against them, as proof that the Kremlin views them as a real threat.

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