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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

United Russia Seizes a Huge Lead

MTFirst-time voter Valery Natarov, 19, receiving a flower, pen and notebook from Alexander Lazarev, the elections commissioner at Polling Station No. 448.
United Russia was heading for a major victory in Moscow City Duma elections on Sunday, with preliminary results giving the party an overwhelming 48.17 percent of the vote.

Only two other parties appeared set to overcome the 10 percent barrier to win seats in the party-list vote: the Communist Party, with 17.53 percent, and a coalition of liberal parties running on the Yabloko ticket, with 11.32 percent, according to city election commission figures.

The early results, with only 2.5 percent of the vote counted at 10 p.m., fell largely in line with an exit poll conducted by Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth organization. That poll, however, predicted that the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR, would win seats.

Preliminary results gave LDPR only 7.14 percent.

Turnout was about 33 percent of the 6.9 million registered voters, well over the 20 percent required to validate the elections, the election commission said.

Opposition candidates and activists, however, cried foul over what they claimed were numerous violations in both the City Duma elections and the two by-elections to the State Duma held in the city's Preobrazhensky and Universitetsky districts. Preliminary results put the United Russia candidate, Sergei Shavrin, in the lead in Preobrazhensky.

The leader of Yabloko's Moscow branch, Sergei Mitrokhin, told reporters that observers from Yabloko and other opposition parties had registered "unprecedented violations," including busloads of people going from one polling station to another to cast absentee ballots. He said about 100 people were seen on one bus alone and that they voted at polling stations Nos. 1 and 2 on the Arbat as well as at No. 58 on Ulitsa Krasnoselskaya.

"This is an apparent use of administrative resources," he said, using a phrase that describes illegal assistance rendered by authorities to a party or candidate.

Mitrokhin also said scores of soldiers voted in the Solntsevo neighborhood in southwestern Moscow, even though they were not residents of the area and therefore had no right to vote there.

City election commission spokesman Fais Khaliulin told reporters late Sunday that "an unusually large number of soldiers" had been spotted at a polling station but a subsequent check found that the group had consisted of only 20 soldiers and that all of them had the right to vote there.

Rodina official Oleg Bondarenko said a PAZ bus and several Gazel minivans carried voters between polling stations in District No. 10, a single-mandate constituency in southern Moscow. Rodina, a leading contender going into the vote, could do little but monitor the proceedings Sunday after the Supreme Court on Friday upheld a lower court's decision to bar it over a xenophobic campaign ad.

Once polling stations closed at 8 p.m., election officials at some tried to evict Yabloko observers even though they had the right to stay and watch the vote count, Yabloko said.

The City Prosecutor's Office said it had received one complaint about ballot-stuffing -- from a voter at a polling station in the Molzhaninovo area in northern Moscow -- and it promised to investigate.

The city election commission said it knew of no serious violations. Commission head Valentin Gorbunov said his office had received numerous complaints about campaign posters near polling stations on Sunday, but he noted that the law allows the posters as long as they are placed at least 50 meters from the polling stations.

Gorbunov said the "most outstanding" violations that he was aware of included a polling station official accidentally deleting the name of a Rodina candidate in a single-mandate district and an activist tearing down a poster of President Vladimir Putin.

Yabloko activist Vitaly Reznikov tore down the poster at Polling Station No. 2,658 in western Moscow. He was taken to a police station and fined 1,500 rubles ($52). A Yabloko spokesman, however, said the poster was not of Putin but of Mayor Yury Luzhkov.

Nine parties and more than 400 candidates competed for the 35 seats in the city legislature, which will have expanded powers, including the right to confirm the president's appointment for Moscow's next mayor.

A total of 91 candidates ran for 15 seats elected in single-mandate constituencies, while more than 300 ran on party lists for the other 20 seats. Those seats will be divided among the parties that overcome the 10 percent barrier.

The elections are widely seen as a precursor to the State Duma vote in 2007.

Luzhkov, who tops the United Russia list in the City Duma elections but will probably turn down the seat, said in brief remarks to reporters that he hoped the elections would be valid, as "they are very important for the city and its future."

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said after voting at Polling Station No. 108, near the White House, that he was intensifying his efforts to unify the democratic opposition. "It's good that we have elections," Kasyanov said in a brief interview, noting that the next mayor would be appointed in 2007 by the president, not elected.

He said, however, that he believed the Putin-backed law scrapping gubernatorial elections would soon be repealed.

Asked whom he had voted for, he smiled and said, "It's a mystery."

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and United Russia leader and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov also voted at the same polling station. While Fradkov offered no comment, Gryzlov said he believed that candidates elected on party lists would feel more responsible for their actions.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov underscored the importance of the vote. "Moscow is a whole state in itself, and the atmosphere in the whole country depends on the situation in Moscow," he said after voting at the same polling station as Luzhkov, No. 173 on Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa in central Moscow.

Some 20,000 policemen were dispatched to guard polling stations and to patrol the streets on Sunday.

Shortly before the elections, police raided the apartments of opposition activists in what Russian media speculated was a bid to pre-empt any attempt to disrupt the voting.

Police detectives and secret service agents on Saturday searched the apartment of Sergei Shargunov, who heads Rodina's youth wing, Gazeta.ru reported.

On Friday, officers from the city police's organized crime department tried to enter an apartment owned by the press secretary of the National Bolshevik Party, Alexander Averin. Four senior NBP activists were in the apartment and refused to open the door. The standoff ended Saturday night when the officers left, Averin told Ekho Moskvy radio.

NBP activist Vladimir Abel told Gazeta from the besieged apartment that Moscow police detectives had recently searched an apartment leased by NBP and detained 10 activists inside the apartment.

Also Friday, Moscow region police detained Alexander Barkashov, the outspoken leader of a nationalist organization, Russian National Unity, and three assistants after a clash. The four were charged with beating a senior officer of the Moscow regional police's organized crime department.

Staff Writer Stephen Boykewich contributed to this report.