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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exit Polls Show Kremlin Parties Leading

MTVoters casting their ballots in Mytishchi, a city in the Moscow region, one of 14 regions across the country that held parliamentary elections on Sunday.
United Russia dominated Sunday's regional elections, exit polls indicated, with the pro-Kremlin party winning huge majorities in St. Petersburg and the Tomsk and Tyumen regions, among others.

The poll, which included figures from 10 of the 14 regions that held elections, was conducted by the state-owned VTsIOM polling agency.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night was the success of the new pro-Kremlin party, A Just Russia, which came in second, in several elections, trailing only United Russia, and managed to come in first in the Stavropol region.

The Communists and the Liberal Democratic Party looked likely to capture third and fourth place in most contests.

Together, the two pro-Kremlin parties netted close to two-thirds of the vote in most of the regions that were polled.

The Kremlin has sought to portray the two parties as legitimate rivals, with United Russia cast as the center-right party and A Just Russia as its center-left foe. But the reality is that both parties appear to support identical policies -- those of President Vladimir Putin.

A little more than one in three eligible voters cast ballots in the regional elections, widely seen as a dress rehearsal for the battle between United Russia and A Just Russia, on the one hand, and a weakened opposition, on the other, in December's State Duma contests.

Overall, local authorities indicated that turnout was about the same as it was in October's nine regional elections, just shy of 37 percent. About 31 million people were eligible to vote.

Several demonstrators and journalists were arrested in scuffles near polling stations, and a handful of instances of voter fraud were reported. A candidate was stabbed Saturday in St. Petersburg.

While election results are not expected until Monday, there is little doubt about the outcome, with the increasingly marginalized opposition parties given little hope of scoring any upsets.

The Kremlin used an array of election tools to ensure victory for United Russia and A Just Russia, political analysts say.

Those tools included eliminating minimum voter turnouts and the "against all" option on ballots. Previously, supporters of reform candidates had demonstrated opposition to elections -- viewed in some corners as rigged -- by not showing up to vote or casting ballots "against all" the candidates.

Another new development is that in the Moscow and Leningrad regions and in Dagestan, voters did not have the option of voting for candidates; instead, they could only vote for parties. Parties try to attract voters by posting their "party lists" on ballots.

In the case of a big pro-Kremlin party like United Russia, those lists include local officials, sports stars and others -- making it easier, presumably, for United Russia to beat small opposition parties that feature lists with lesser-known members.

What's more, parties not represented in the Duma -- which includes what is left of the opposition forces -- were required to submit thousands of signatures or a cash deposit to get on the ballot.

Not surprisingly, Alexander Veshnyakov, head of the Central Election Commission, said Friday that the number of parties that were denied a chance to run candidates this time around was higher than in October.

In the run-up to Sunday's vote, 17 parties were barred from the ballots, Veshnyakov said. It was unclear how many parties were not permitted to run candidates last fall.

One of the parties cut out of Sunday's elections in St. Petersburg was Yabloko, run by Grigory Yavlinsky.

Yavlinsky has acknowledged that an election form had been incorrectly filled out -- the official reason given for barring Yabloko candidates. But he stressed that the real reason his party was cut out of the political process was that Yabloko had taken part in demonstrations protesting plans by state-run Gazprom to build a skyscraper in St. Petersburg.

Yabloko was on the ballot Sunday in four other regions, including the Moscow region.

In the Moscow region town of Odintsovo, police arrested three activists from the unregistered National Bolshevik Party. One of the activists threw a smoke grenade into a polling station.

As they were being hauled away by police, the National Bolshevik activists reportedly shouted, "This election is a farce," Interfax said.

Also detained in Odintsovo were a Reuters cameraman and photographers from the RIA-Novosti news agency and Kommersant newspaper.

Yabloko officials sent to observe voting procedures reported several breaches of the law in Odintsovo, to the immediate west of the capital.

While riding a marshrutka bus Sunday in Mytishchi, a city north of Moscow, Yabloko activist Nikolai Zboroshenko asked the driver to remove United Russia and Union of Right Forces campaign materials that were on the bus, Yabloko said in a statement. It is illegal for parties to post campaign literature on election day.

When the driver refused Zboroshenko's request, Zboroshenko began jotting down the license plate, prompting the driver to strike him, Yabloko said in its statement.

In the Moscow region, Yabloko said it recorded nine other breaches of the law.

In Mytishchi, huge United Russia posters were seen lining the streets around polling station No. 12.

Resident Yevdokia Borisova, 78, expressed frustration with the dearth, as she saw it, of good candidates. "I liked it when we were allowed to vote 'against all,'" Borisova said, before casting her vote at the polling station inside the town's Russian University of Cooperation.

A pop group in the university's foyer entertained voters; officials had set up a small buffet outside the voting hall.

Despite all the attempts at a feel-good atmosphere, Anna, another 78-year-old voter, who refused to give her last name, lamented the state of modern politics.

"Elections always were associated with the feeling of a national holiday," she said. "Now there is no such feeling."

In St. Petersburg, Radio Svoboda reported that some people had cast ballots twice. Local authorities said there had been no serious violations.