Russia’s ruling United Russia party swept almost all local election races held across the country on Sunday, even as monitors cried foul over numerous violations favouring Kremlin loyalists.

Elections to nearly 5,000 bodies of local and regional government were the first test of President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power after he reclaimed the top Kremlin job five months ago. The polls reasserted the ruling party’s control of the regions, but the opposition said it was the dirtiest election to date.

“I’ve called our campaigners in the regions and they all said they’d never seen such a massive ‘carousel’ multiple voting and ballot stuffing as this time around,” said Nikolai Levichev, head of the opposition Just Russia party.

Golos, Russia’s only nationwide independent elections watchdog, registered hundreds of election violations that also included refusal to register opposition candidates under far-fetched pretexts; manipulation with voter rolls; and barring of monitors from polling stations.

Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, who replaced Mr. Putin as chairman of United Russia after they swapped jobs, hailed the vote as “civilised and democratic”.

“As far as I know, nobody found any serious irregularities”, he told the ruling party activists.

Mr. Medvedev said United Russia had done better than at the parliamentary elections in December despite the fact that it faced more competition from new parties that sprang up after the Kremlin eased rules for party registration earlier this year.

The December poll was marred by allegations of massive fraud that sparked off largest protest demonstrations in Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union. The protests forced the Kremlin to reform the electoral legislation, but critics said the new rules favoured the ruling party.

Even though alleged violations could have impacted the outcome of Sunday’s polls, analysts said the vote also showed opposition weakness as the new protest movement failed to spread to the provinces.

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