By Polina Nikolskaya
VLADIVOSTOK (Reuters) - Russia's top election official recommended on Wednesday that a regional election be re-run following allegations that it had been rigged to secure victory for the Kremlin's candidate.
Communist Party supporters took to the streets of Vladivostok to protest after the incumbent governor of the far eastern Primorsky region mounted an improbable comeback in the final stages of counting to edge out his Communist challenger in Sunday's run-off vote.
Ella Pamfilova, head of the Central Election Commission, did not accuse the Kremlin-backed United Russia candidate, Andrei Tarasenko, of orchestrating the vote-rigging, but said on Wednesday that a raft of irregularities had been identified, including ballot stuffing and vote buying.
She recommended the vote be annulled and a new one held within three months, according to Russian news agencies. The regional election commission was due to decide on Thursday whether to follow her advice.
Tarasenko's struggles and three other reversals in elections to select regional governors this month amount to the worst showing for Kremlin-backed candidates since 2012.
Though there is no immediate threat to the United Russia party's grip on power, it suggests growing discontent over living standards, not least plans to delay the retirement age, which have also been reflected in declining popularity ratings for President Vladimir Putin.
With just under 99 percent of votes counted on Sunday night, Tarasenko was trailing Communist Andrei Ishchenko by more than 2 percentage points.
But on Monday, the local election commission said Tarasenko had won by just over 1 percentage point, with results showing he had received almost every one of the final 20,000 votes counted.
Putin had met Tarasenko ahead of the vote and told him that "everything will be okay," according to a Kremlin transcript of the meeting.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday that the Kremlin supported Pamfilova's call for a re-run, adding that the "priority of clean and fair elections" was more important to Putin than his preference of candidate.
Anna, a 25-year-old project manager who attended a rally against electoral fraud in Vladivostok, said it would be fairer to recount the previous vote, rather than hold a new one:
"This is also manipulation. The votes should be recounted, and the results should not simply be annulled."
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Kevin Liffey)
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Updated Date: Sep 20, 2018 00:08:09 IST