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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Local Polls Fail as Apathy Rules

THE MOSCOW TIMES


Local elections across Russia over the weekend drew so few voters that elections were declared invalid in three regions and several major cities, while in other regions, barely enough voters showed up to validate local polls.


The third straight week of disappointing turnouts in Russia's first free local elections provided further indication of how little faith voters have that democracy will improve their lives.


Fewer than 30 percent of the eligible voters showed up for elections to the Moscow regional assembly Sunday, just above the minimum requirement of 25 percent for the vote to be legal, a spokesman of the Moscow region said.


In Kaliningrad, traditionally among the most active regions in voting in Russia, just over 30 percent voted, Itar-Tass reported.


Fewer than 25 percent voted in Novosibirsk, one of the largest Siberian cities with 1.5 million inhabitants, Itar-Tass said. In Novocheboksarsk, a city in the Ural republic of Chuvashia, voters showed up at the polls mainly because they could take part in a lottery if they voted, the agency said.


Sergei Samoilov, deputy head of the President Boris Yeltsin's department on regional policy, said that this picture was misleading.


Of 32 regions that held elections on Sunday, polls were declared invalid only in the regions of Ryazan in central Russia, Samara on the Volga River and Magadan in the Far East, Samoilov said.


Samoilov said that turnout Sunday was as high as 40 percent in many regions and that small villages had voted far more actively then cities.


But he acknowledged that many villagers had voted not out of a belief in democracy, but in keeping with the Soviet-era tradition of obligatory elections. He also suggested that local leaders sometimes threatened to withhold land plots from farmers who fail to vote.


Even in regions where elections were deemed valid overall, there were serious problems due to low turnout. In several regions and some major cities the vote was valid in fewer than two-thirds of the electoral districts, which means that the regional parliaments and city councils will not have a quorum and can not pass decisions, Samoilov said.


Earlier this month in St. Petersburg, for instance, 25.6 percent of the voters showed up for local elections after mayor Anatoly Sobchak kept ballots open for an additional day. But the new City Assembly will have only half of its seats filled and will be powerless until a additional elections are held in the fall.


The Moscow government reacted by postponing elections for neighborhood elections, planned for April, until the fall, Moscow's deputy mayor, Anatoly Petrov, said in an interview Monday.