Moscow held its first mayoral election in a decade on Sunday, a potentially pivotal contest that is energising the small opposition in ways that could pose a risk to the Kremlin in the days and years ahead.
Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin, backed by President Vladimir Putin, is expected to easily win the election.
After casting his ballot, Putin said that Moscow needed a technocrat as mayor, a clear allusion to Sobyanin.
"We need business-like, concrete, unpoliticised people, technocrats, who are able to work, and know what to do and how to do it and who take responsibility for their actions," Putin said.
Despite Sobyanin's likely victory, the candidacy of charismatic opposition leader Alexei Navalny has prompted a burgeoning wave of grassroots campaigning by thousands of volunteers who had not engaged in a competitive race before.
If Navalny can get more than 20 percent of the vote or even come close to forcing Sobyanin into a run-off, it could embolden the opposition in its efforts to one day drive Putin from power.
While Navalny has been allowed to run, he has been targeted by an increasingly dirty campaign, with election officials accusing him of being funded from abroad and state media giving little air time to his views.
Golos, Russia's leading independent election monitor, said that there hadn't been evidence of major violations early on.
A vote seen as unfair could trigger protests, just as reports of widespread fraud in a national parliamentary election in 2011 set off the unprecedented demonstrations against Putin's rule.
The election is the first since 2003 and the first since the Kremlin last year reversed Putin's 2004 decree abolishing direct elections for the Moscow mayor and other regional leaders.
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