Pro-Kremlin candidates faced a huge defeat on Sunday as the ruling party, United Russia, lost one-third of its seats in the Moscow city assembly elections. United Russia backs President Putin and the loss in seats is construed as Putin's declining popularity in the country.
The final polling data cited by Russian news agencies showed on Monday that United Russia has procured 25 out of a total of 45 seats in the assembly. Though the party retained its majority, the number is substantially less than their former 38 seats, making this a significant setback for the Kremlin.
In the last Moscow election in 2014, United Russia had won 28 seats on its own and a further 10 through independent candidates, whom it had backed. This time around on Sunday, the Communist Party won 13 seats, up from their previous five. This was primarily at the cost of United Russia's candidates. The opposition Yabloko Party won four seats, and the Fair Russia Party, another three.
Political analysts believe that the Moscow city assembly results are primarily the result of mass protests by Russian voters against the Putin administration. Support for the Kremlin plummeted ever since the pension rule was reformed that forced the Russian citizens to work five years longer; in addition to that, Value Added Tax (VAT) was increased and for a fifth consecutive year, household incomes had fallen.
Moreover, since July, Moscow has been witnessing protests and demonstrations which resulted in heavy crackdowns and arrests. The Central Election Commission had refused to register a large number of opposition candidates, which triggered the biggest protest movement in Russia since 2011-2013. All this had resulted in fierce opposition, encouraging voters to tactfully exclude the possibility of United Russia's candidates from getting elected.
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition activist who was imprisoned during the protests, called the election result "fantastic voting" and felt that everyone had contributed to this electoral mandate.
The political activists and opposition to United Russia believe that this mandate gives a glimpse into the national parliamentary election in 2021, in which Putin's party may face a drastic setback. Even the party's own candidates in Moscow had tried to distance themselves from United Russia, in an effort to portray themselves as independents; given the fact that the party's popularity is at an all-time low. However, it is pertinent to note that the voter turnout, whether forcefully or organically, was just under 22%.
Kremlin, however, does not view the Moscow assembly results as disheartening or alarming. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, said that the election was “very successful for United Russia. It might have gotten more seats at some places and fewer at others, but on the whole, the party showed its political leadership nationwide.”