Incumbent Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin is set to win elections in the Russian capital Sunday despite an unexpectedly strong performance by protest leader Alexei Navalny, exit polls said.
Sobyanin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, is due to retain the post of mayor in the first round with 52.5 percent of the vote while Navalny is due to get 29.1 percent, the Kremlin-connected FOM polling group said.
A second exit poll by the VTsIOM, another Kremlin-linked polling agency, gave a similar projection, putting Sobyanin on 53 percent and Navalny on 32 percent.
Communist candidate Ivan Melnikov was predicted to come third.
Navalny's campaign immediately contested the findings, saying its polls showed Sobyanin had won only 46 percent, meaning their candidate had forced a second round with 35.6 percent 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 Navalny would win around 20 percent.
Addressing cheering supporters at his election headquarters, Navalny accused Putin and 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.