MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia’s ruling party headed to a convincing victory in Crimea polls on Monday, with a preliminary count showing it won more than 70 per cent in the first local elections since the peninsula’s annexation from Ukraine in March.
“Currently the Crimea regional branch of United Russia is leading with 71.04 per cent,” Crimea’s electoral commission said in a statement on Monday morning after 50 per cent of votes had been counted.
The ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, led by firebrand lawyer Vladimir Zhirinovsky who backs the Kremlin, was running second with just over eight per cent of the vote.
No other party appeared to have broken the five per cent barrier for representation.
In the city of Sevastopol, which voted separately, United Russia had won 59 per cent of the vote with half the ballots counted.
Ukraine condemned the votes as illegitimate in a statement issued by its foreign ministry.
Russia on Sunday held nationwide local elections for governors or local assemblies in 84 regions that led to few surprises as candidates backed by the Kremlin largely sealed victory.
The inhabitants of the Crimea peninsula, where Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet is based, were voting to select lawmakers for the parliaments of Crimea and Sevastopol, and for local city councillors.
Parliamentarians will then elect governors for Crimea and Sevastopol.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who leads the ruling party, said Monday that the vote proved Russia was acting legitimately in Crimea.
“All the participants in the electoral campaign in Crimea have proved to us and our neighbours that power in Russia is based on legal procedures,” said Medvedev, quoted by the state RIA Novosti news agency.
Medvedev said on Sunday that the elections in Crimea were “highly competitive”.
The Kremlin loyalist acting head of the region, Sergei Aksyonov, claimed that the polls were the first ever fair vote on the peninsula.
“This is the first result at an election in the history of Crimea that was achieved in an honest way,” said Aksyonov, cited by the state TASS news agency.
He was appointed by President Vladimir Putin as Crimea’s acting governor in April.
The head of Crimea’s electoral commission, Mikhail Malyshev, acknowledged flaws in the vote, saying that more than 80,000 Crimea residents were added to electoral registers on the day of the polls.
“This is related to the hurry in which Russian passports were given out,” Malyshev was quoted as saying by the commission.