MOSCOW (Reuters) - An anti-Kremlin opposition candidate has won a rare seat in Moscow’s legislature with the help of some army votes, election data showed, suggesting that discontent over falling living standards may have reached parts of the military.
Sergei Mitrokhin won his seat in Sunday’s election partly by triumphing at two of four polling stations near the Russian army’s main headquarters where military families voted en masse, Reuters data shows.
His victory also came despite the army’s practice of ordering soldiers to cast their ballots in elections to help boost usually poor turnout and - the authorities hope - also increase support for Kremlin-backed candidates.
Mitrokhin, who represents the opposition Yabloko Party, had taken part in a wave of street protests over the exclusion of other opposition candidates in the weeks leading up to the vote.
He won 39% and 32% of the vote, more than other candidates, at polling stations No. 167 and 168 near the main Defence Ministry building on the Moscow river embankment where some 1,140 servicemen and their family members voted, election officials said. Overall, Mitrokhin won more than 50 percent of votes cast in the area where he was standing.
Russia’s electoral system allows Russian troops and their families to be registered to vote at the Defence Ministry’s compounds in Moscow despite living in other neighbourhoods or even outside the capital.
Their votes in past elections have helped pro-Kremlin candidates to victory in central Moscow neighbourhoods with a strong opposition presence.
During Sunday’s vote Mitrokhin, who was himself initially barred from running by the local election commission, told Reuters he thought the press-ganging of soldiers into voting at these polling stations could affect his chances of winning a seat in the Moscow legislature.
When asked to explain his victory on Tuesday despite the military vote he said: “I don’t know what happened.”
At least six Russian soldiers told Reuters during Sunday’s vote that they had been coerced into voting by their superiors and some of them had been asked to provide photographic evidence that they had cast their ballot.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
The ruling United Russia party lost one third of its seats in the Moscow assembly but retained its majority.
The military vote didn’t go all Mitrokhin’s way however.
He finished behind other candidates with just 577 votes at polling station number nine near another Defence Ministry complex. Nearly 3,200 military and their family members voted there, largely outweighing 10 civilian voters.
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Gleb Stolyarov, Polina Nikolskaya and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Gareth Jones