MOSCOW (AP) — A communist candidate in Russia’s Far East said on Monday he is starting a hunger strike over alleged irregularities in a gubernatorial race.
With 95 percent of the ballots counted, Andrei Ishchenko of the Communist Party had a five percent lead over the candidate from a pro-Kremlin party in Sunday’s runoff vote for governor of the Primorye region. But election officials reported a few hours later that the Kremlin party’s candidate had taken an unexpected lead in the election.
In a video message posted on his Facebook page early Monday, Ishchenko accused election authorities of rigging the results and said he would start a hunger strike in protest.
Ishchenko called on his supporters to join him and to hold protests in the Pacific port of Vladivostok.
The upheaval in Vladivostok comes less than a week after President Vladimir Putin hosted the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea there at a major economic conference.
Putin also met with the Kremlin candidate, Andrei Tarasenko, ahead of the runoff and told him, according to the transcript on the Kremlin website, that “everything is going to be fine.”
Speaking Monday to his supporters outside the headquarters of the regional administration, Ishchenko said he had “no right to back down” and that he’ll be spending the night there until the election results are annulled.
Allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Vladivostok called on their supporters to join the protest.
About 1,000 people were rallying early Monday evening Vladivostok time in support of Ishchenko.
Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the Russian Election Commission, told Russian news agencies on Monday that election authorities will be considering all complaints before official results are announced later this week.
Ishchenko said his proxies who monitored the vote count in several towns and cities have copies of the vote count protocols that differ from the results announced by local election officials.