Kremlin suffers new setback in polls
Moscow - President-elect Vladimir Putin suffered a new setback on Monday after seeing the ruling party candidate trounced in a local mayoral race that became the focus of Russia's nascent protest movement.
Official results from the central city of Yaroslavl showed ruling United Russia party candidate Yakov Yakushev picking up just 27.8% of the vote in a runoff on Sunday against independent rival Yevgeny Urlashov with 68.7%.
The defeat for the party that converged around Putin during his first two terms as president in 2000-2008 was especially convincing because Yakushev had won the endorsements of both the local governor and the outgoing mayor.
Hundreds of monitors from Russia's protest movement had descended on the city to observe the vote after sending thousands of people to polling stations in Moscow for the March 4 presidential ballot.
The movement claimed Moscow as its biggest success after the capital became the only region of Russia in which ex-KGB spy Putin failed to pick up 50% of the vote.
Putin still secured a crushing win with 63% of the vote nationwide, taking away much of the momentum of mass protests that emerged in response to a fraud-tainted December parliamentary ballot narrowly won by United Russia.
Change of tactics
But protest leaders said Putin would have fared much worse had his election been watched as closely across the nation as it had been in Moscow.
Protest leaders have since vowed to change their tactics and make election monitoring into one of the main focal points of their drive to reverse more than a decade of the Kremlin's stifling domination over politics.
"Urlashov's victory is our victory," the unregistered Solidarity movement of former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov and retired chess king Garry Kasparov wrote on Twitter.
A top United Russia official said the party intended to learn from its mistakes.
"We have already seen this happen in Samara," party leader Sergei Neverov said in reference to another local election United Russia lost last month.
"Some time will pass and people who vote like this will realise what it means to support an unprepared candidate," Interfax quoted Neverov as saying.