MOSCOW (AFP) - Incumbent Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin is set to win elections in the Russian capital on Sunday despite an unexpectedly strong performance by protest leader Alexei Navalny, exit polls said.
Mr Sobyanin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, is due to retain the post of mayor in the first round with 52.5 per cent of the vote while Mr Navalny is due to get 29.1 per cent, the Kremlin-connected FOM polling group said.
A second exit poll by the VTsIOM, another Kremlin-linked polling agency, gave a similar projection, putting Mr Sobyanin on 53 per cent and Navalny on 32 per cent.
Communist candidate Ivan Melnikov was predicted to come third.
Mr Navalny's campaign immediately contested the findings, saying its polls showed Mr Sobyanin had won only 46 per cent, meaning their candidate had forced a second round with 35.6 per cent of the vote.
The result predicted by the polls is far superior to that projected by opinion polls in the run-up to the vote which projected that Mr Navalny would win around 20 per cent.
Addressing cheering supporters at his election headquarters, Mr Navalny accused Mr Putin and Mr Sobyanin of concocting a figure that suited them.
"Right now Sobyanin and his main supporter Vladimir Putin are deciding whether to have a relatively honest election and to have a second round, or not," he said.