Vladimir Putin's United Russia party wins elections
Results are a marked contrast to last December's elections, but opponents still allege dirty tricks
The ruling United Russia party won provincial and local elections around the country, early results showed, but opponents alleged widespread voting violations that will preserve President Vladimir Putin's dominance.
The first big elections since Putin began a new six-year term in May will do little to appease opponents who say he has used election fraud and suppression to stay in power.
Results from contests staged on Sunday from the Baltic Sea to Kamchatka on the Pacific Ocean showed United Russia had won or was heading for victory in all five provincial governorship races, and in several votes for provincial and city legislatures.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, to whom Putin handed the chairmanship of United Russia after they swapped jobs, said the ruling party had done better than in a December parliamentary election in which it lost dozens of seats.
Charges of fraud in that election brought tens of thousands of people into the streets of Moscow for the biggest opposition protests of Putin's 12-year rule, but he won the presidency in March despite the demonstrations.
"I'll put it frankly: United Russia has made a strong showing, stronger than in the December Duma election," Medvedev said at the United Russia headquarters in Moscow based on results from eastern regions, Russian news agencies reported.
"Everybody expected a party fiasco following the December election ... Nothing like that has happened," Medvedev said. He said the elections were "civilised and, as far as I understand, nobody has spotted any significant violations so far".
But opponents say the Kremlin used its position to give favoured candidates an unfair advantage by removing competitors from races and pressuring state employees to vote for candidates backed by United Russia.
They also alleged violations in races around the country on election day, including multiple voting and ballot-stuffing.
"It's sad that the situation hasn't changed. The number of violations has not decreased, nor has it increased" compared to previous elections, said Grigory Melkonyants, deputy director of Western-funded vote monitoring group Golos.
"In competitive races, violations are conducted without batting an eye. It's nothing new, they continue to conduct ... ballot-stuffing and carousels," a practice in which groups cast ballots at several polling stations.
Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov said Golos' claims had "nothing to do with reality. We are gathering all the material to investigate where such lies are coming from."
A regional election official said the commission had received no formal complaints of pressure on state workers.