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In a high stakes mayoral election in Moscow, Kremlin ally Sergei Sobyanin is heading for victory. Partial results point to him winning over 50 percent of the vote, avoiding the need for a second-round runoff.
The contest is being seen as significant, having energised the opposition in ways which could pose a risk to the Kremlin in future.
However if Sobyanin’s win is confirmed Vladimir Putin will have a close ally in the capital until after the 2018 presidential election in which Putin has not ruled out seeking a fourth term.
The main challenger was Alexei Navalny, the charismatic leader of Russia’s pro-democracy movement. Navalny is out on bail having been found guilty of embezzlement in what he says was a political trial.
As the election count went on Navalny remained unconvinced of the outcome: “I’m asking the Moscow mayoral office not to falsify the results. We know the authorities will be tempted to add eight to ten percent to their tally to show they have won in the first round.”
Although Navalny had enlivened the ballot, running a western-style campaign, the voter turn out was surprisingly low at under 30 percent.
Election monitors have said they have seen no evidence of fraud.