Russians voted on Sunday in parliamentary polls seen as a test of Vladimir Putin’s personal authority ahead of a planned return to the presidency, and an electoral watchdog complained of ‘massive cyber attacks’ on a website alleging violations.
Putin remains by far the most popular politician in the country but there are some signs Russians may be wearying of his cultivated strong man image. The 59-year-old ex-spy looked stern and said he hoped for good results for his United Russia party as he walked past supporters to vote in Moscow.
“I will vote for Putin. Everything he gets involved in, he manages well,” Father Vasily, 61, a bespectacled and white-bearded monk from a nearby monastery said. “It’s too early for a new generation. They will be in charge another 20 years. We are Russians, we are Asians, we need a strong leadership.”
A Western-financed electoral watchdog and two liberal media outlets said their sites had been shut down by hackers intent on silencing allegations of violations. Sites belonging to the Ekho Moskvy radio station, online news portal Slon.ru and the watchdog Golos went down at around 8 a.m.
“Massive cyber attacks are taking place on the sites of Golos and the map showing violations,” Golos said on twitter.
Golos said it was excluded from several polling booths in the Siberian Tomsk region. Moscow prosecutors launched an investigation last week into Golos’ activities after lawmakers objected to its Western financing. On Saturday, customs officers held Golos’s director for 12 hours at a Moscow airport.
Washington said it was concerned by “a pattern of harassment” against the watchdog.
Ekho Moskvy editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov wrote on Twitter: “It is obvious the election day attack on the (radio) site is part of an attempt to prevent publishing information about violations.”
President Dmitry Medvedev, who is stepping aside in March so that Putin can return to the presidency, has dismissed talk of electoral fraud. Neither the general prosecutor’s office nor the Central Election Commission could be reached for comment.
Some voters said they would vote for Just Russia, which calls itself ‘new socialist’, or the Communists, who retain support largely among poorer citizens two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the advent of a free market system.Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, voting at a cultural centre decked with Soviet-style hammer and sickle flags, said there appeared to be election violations in several of Russia’s 93 regions spanning 9,000 Km (5,600 miles).