Russia's ruling party has swept local elections seen as a dress rehearsal for the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential votes, but its performance has been weaker than in the past, according to early returns released Monday.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party emerged as the top vote-getter in all 12 regions where elections to local legislatures were held Sunday, but it received less than half of the ballots in seven of them.
Putin said the vote results were "more than satisfactory" and insisted that the vote demonstrated people's trust in the government. "That means that people, even though many of them are tired and feel pressure, continue to positively assess the government's actions and express hope by this vote that the situation will change," Putin said.
United Russia also won elections to city legislatures which were held in 10 provincial capitals.
Putin, who served as president in 2000-2008, is widely believed to seek to reclaim the post in next year's presidential vote after his protege Dmitry Medvedev's four-year presidential term ends.
United Russia, which has most top government officials among its members, has dominated the federal parliament and holds the majority of seats in most regional legislatures across the country.
The party won a combined total of 68 percent of seats in regional legislatures. However, that was weaker than in the previous round of regional elections last October, when it won 76 percent.
Some observers said that the party's mixed showing in some regions reflected a growing public disillusionment with the government. Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political expert, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the outcome of Sunday's vote makes it unlikely that United Russia could win the majority of vote in December elections to the national parliament.
Putin said Monday he hasn't decided yet whether to put his name on United Russia's list for that vote.
Some of United Russia's rivals and independent monitors said that Sunday's election was tainted by numerous violations.
The Communist Party, which finished second in most regional elections, said that ballot boxes were stuffed and that there were incidents of multiple voting in many regions.
"We haven't seen such outrage before," Zyuganov said at a briefing, "The ruling party has again demonstrated all the dirt and disgusting things that the voters don't accept."
Sergei Mironov, the leader of the Just Russia which competes with United Russia for Kremlin's favor, also said that the vote was unfair in some of the regions, the Interfax news agency reported.
United Russia rejected the accusations and, in its turn, accused rivals of using "dirty election technologies" and even force.