Russia votes in first gubernatorial elections in 8 years

Russia is holding over 4,800 elections across the country, including its first gubernatorial votes in eight years. 

President Vladimir Putin had nixed direct election of governors in 2004, which many saw as a regression back towards the Soviet Union era. After widespread protests across Russia earlier this year, however, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev reinstated gubernatorial elections, RIA Novosti reported

The elections are being viewed largely as a test of the power of Putin's United Russia party following those protests, the largest in Russia in over 10 years. 

Five regions out of 83 will be voting for governors: Amur, Bryansk, Novgorod, Belgorod and Ryazan. Russia's more than 22 million Russians, or one-fifth of all registered voters, will also cast ballots for six regional parliaments, various city councils, and mayor’s offices, RT News reported

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"The meaning of these gubernatorial elections is more for the Kremlin to test the system and establish whether it is capable of sustainability without large-scale transformation or not," Nikolai Petrov, a regional politics expert at the Moscow Carnegie Center, told Radio Free Europe. "They chose regions where they can be sure of the result due to enduring administrative control or those regions that are of less importance." 

Many opposition leaders have protested the Kremlin's new restrictions on elections, including its imposition of “municipal filters,” a law that requires gubernatorial hopefuls to garner approval from 5 to 10 percent of local legislators, the Washington Post reported. Because most legislation members are Kremlin supporters, they made it difficult for most opposition candidates to run. 

“Maybe we acted too harshly with the filters but in my opinion filters are needed,” Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “I can’t quite understand how we can allow 120 to 150 candidates to compete in gubernatorial elections.”

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