MOSCOW -- In local and regional elections marked by low voter turnout and fresh allegations of polling fraud, Russian leader Vladimir Putin's United Russia party claimed a landslide victory on Sunday.
Putin's allies preserved their seats in all five of the regional governor’s jobs up for a vote. And United Russia won most of the 4,848 local legislative seats and referendums up for a vote in 77 regions, according to preliminary returns.
Some observers called the results a political comeback for the Kremlin party after a poor showing in the national parliamentary election held last December, when it won less than 50% of the vote amid widespread accusations of massive electoral manipulation.
Putin thanked voters on Monday. "For me, the results of the vote are not unexpected," he said in televised remarks. "I think it one more step confirming the voters' intent to support the current authorities and the development of the Russian statehood."
Pro-Kremlin analysts also hailed the returns as a powerful retort to the results in last year's election, which brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets in a movement that shook Russia until the summer.
"United Russia has taken its more-than-convincing revenge," Dmitry Orlov, director of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications, a Moscow-based think tank, said in an interview.
Independent observers noted, however, a record low turnout of 13% to 20% in various contests and cited numerous reports of large-scale electoral manipulations.
Grigory Melkonyants, a deputy chief of Golos, a human rights group monitoring Russian elections termed Sunday's vote a Pyrrhic victory for the ruling party.
"Instead of laughing their heads off with joy, United Russia should be crying their eyes out with such a ridiculous turnout, because now it is not clear who these governors and parliaments really represent, as the population en masse stayed at home and ignored the elections," Melkonyants said in an interview. "In some elections, opposition candidates and parties were prevented from getting on the ballot list during the registration process, whereas in those regions where opposition forces were represented on the ballot, the authorities once again used manipulations like multiple votes by one person."
Liberal opposition candidates won an insignificant presence in the legislatures of the cities of Barnaul in eastern Siberia and Kaliningrad in the West, Melkonyants said.
"The opposition candidates are good as protest heroes, but the public can't imagine them as efficient managers," pro-Kremlin analyst Orlov said.
-- Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, listens to Central Electoral Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov during a meeting Monday just outside Moscow. Credit: Alexei Nikolsky / Ria-Novosti / AFP/Getty Images