By the Associated Press
Residents of Russia’s capital are voting in a city council election that is shadowed by a wave of protests that saw the biggest demonstrator turnout in seven years and a notably violent police response.
City council elections are normally low-profile, but Sunday’s vote grabbed wide attention after several opposition and independent candidates were denied places on the ballot.
The elections commission said there were signature irregularities in the candidates’ nominating petitions. But the candidates and their supporters rejected that claim.
The ensuing protests tapped widespread dissatisfaction with Russia’s tightly controlled political process, in which opposition figures are marginalized or ignored.
Two unsanctioned protest rallies were harshly dispersed by police, who beat some demonstrators and detained more than 2,400 people in all. A later sanctioned protest attracted some 60,000 people.
Voter interest appeared low on Sunday, with just 5.6 percent of the electorate casting ballots as of noon, the city elections commission said.
Among the voters was President Vladimir Putin, who shrugged off concerns about excluded candidates, saying “It’s not important how many, but the quality. I hope that our candidates are worthy.”
Lyubov Sobol, who became a leader of the protests after her candidacy was rejected, called the election “the funeral of even a semblance of a democratic election.”
Some voters said they were following recommendations of an app launched by Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most visible foe, that suggests which candidate in their district has the strongest likelihood of defeating the candidate from United Russia, the party closely tied to Putin.
United Russia holds more than half the seats in the current city council.