Election officials in Russia’s Far East nullified results of a runoff mayoral election on Thursday, following reports of mass rigging in favour of a candidate backed by President Vladimir Putin.
It is the first time an election has been invalidated since 2002. The scandal in the Primorye region, a key district for the Kremlin, began on Sunday, when an opposition candidate accused local election authorities of stealing the vote at the last minute in favour of the ruling United Russia party.
Andrei Ishchenko, candidate put forward by the Communist party, was winning when more than 98 per cent of the votes were counted.
However, the results changed overnight, when the rest of the votes were counted, and Andrei Tarasenko, the United Russia candidate, took the lead.
Election monitors and Russian media reported multiple violations and irregularities at polling station. In one occasion, a firefighting brigade suddenly appeared and evacuated an entire polling station without any signs of fire or smoke.
In some cases, polling stations counted more votes than voters registered at them.
On Wednesday, Russia’s Central Election Commission, recommended election authorities in Primorye invalidate the vote.
"We’re talking about systematic, well-planned violations that led to the result we’re seeing,” Commission member Boris Ebzeyev told the Interfax news agency.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov supported the move, saying that “legitimacy, transparency, cleanness and fairness” of elections is much more important to Mr Putin than victory of a candidate he backs.
The new vote is scheduled to be held in three months’ time. It is still unclear whether both Mr Ishchenko and Mr Tarasenko are going to run again.
On Wednesday, Mr Tarasenko told reporters he would not run if there was a new vote, but then backtracked at a rally of his supporters.
Mr Ishchenko said he is planning to сontest the decision to invalidate the election in court.
“If we have [one] election invalidated, then we should invalidate all elections that took place in the country over the past 26 years,” the candidate told the RBC news outlet.