Navalny allies claim symbolic win in polls

Pro-Kremlin party says exit polls favour it

Russia’s political opposition on Monday claimed a symbolic victory in regional elections while the ruling party said exit polls showed it was headed for a win in a vote observers said was marred by fraud.

The elections were overshadowed by the alleged poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in the Siberian city of Tomsk ahead of the vote. Germany said on Monday that lab tests in France and Sweden confirmed the Kremlin critic was attacked with a Novichok nerve agent. He is regaining mobility and able to leave his bed, the Berlin hospital treating him said.

Russians in dozens of the country’s 85 regions voted over several days for governors and lawmakers in regional and city legislatures as well as in several by-elections for national MPs.

The polls came a year ahead of parliamentary elections and were seen as a test for President Vladimir Putin as the ruling United Russia party faces sinking popularity and public anger over economic woes.

In an effort to fight Mr. Putin’s electoral machine, Mr. Navalny urged voters back candidates against the ruling party.

The 44-year-old lawyer and Kremlin critic had been in Siberia to promote a “smart voting” campaign when he was poisoned last month.

Two allies of the opposition leader won local Parliament seats in the Siberian city of Tomsk, where Mr. Navalny fell ill, according to early poll results.

United Russia suffered heavy losses in the city of some 5,00,000, winning just 24.46% of the overall vote compared to 52.27% in 2015.

Ksenia Fadeyeva, the 28-year-old head of Navalny’s Tomsk office who won a city council seat, put her success down to the opposition leader’s voting strategy, saying “we really campaigned under the Navalny brand”.

United Russia lost 11 seats and their majority on the city council securing 22 places out of 50, with Navalny-backed candidates picking up five spots.

United Russia chairman Dmitry Medvedev said that exit polls showed it was heading for victory.

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