President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party lost governorships in three regions as the fallout from popular anger over a plan to boost the retirement age makes usually tightly controlled elections more competitive.
Candidates from the populist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia beat United Russia incumbents in the Khabarovsk and Vladimir regions, according to the Central Election Commission. Another United Russia candidate withdrew his name from the run-off ballot in Khakassia over the weekend after coming in second in the initial round of voting.
While United Russia won in 18 of 22 gubernatorial races held this month, losses for the ruling party are unusual in Russia’s heavily choreographed elections. They came as Putin’s approval rating slumped to the lowest in more than a decade after the government announced a plan to raise the pension age by five years for men and women, to 65 and 60 respectively. The unpopular reforms also led to protests earlier this month, with over 1,000 arrested in nearly 40 cities across Russia.
“This is unequivocally a protest vote,” Alexander Kynev, a specialist on regional politics at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said. “People are unhappy with the Kremlin’s policy and they’re ready to vote for anyone who isn’t a representative of United Russia.”
Though it benefited from popular discontent, the LDPR is routinely loyal to the Kremlin and the electoral losses aren’t likely to cause major changes in policy. “On the one hand, this was a protest vote, but I wouldn’t directly link it to United Russia,” Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, said.
“They had a good showing at elections on a regional level for the most part.” For the Kremlin, Sunday’s losses were “unexpected to a certain extent” but authorities were pleased to see peaceful and competitive elections, Dmitry Peskov said.