An opposition anti-drugs campaigner Monday celebrated inflicting one of the worst election defeats for the Kremlin in recent years after beating the ruling party candidate in polls for mayor of Russia's fourth-largest city Yekaterinburg.
Yevgeny Roizman won 33.25 percent of the vote in Sunday's ballot while the candidate of the ruling United Russia Party, Yakov Silin, had 29.07 percent, the local elections commission said after a full vote count.
It is extremely rare in modern Russian history for an opposition candidate to beat the ruling-party figure in an election for a major city like Yekaterinburg.
Unlike the parallel mayoral election in Moscow, the Yekaterinburg poll took place in one round with the winner taking all and becoming mayor.
Silin is currently deputy governor of the city's wider region and his defeat would represent a clear rejection of the ruling elite in one of Russia's key industrial regions.
Roizman, standing as a candidate for the Civil Platform party of billionaire tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov, had won prominence for his "City Without Drugs" anti-narcotics drive.
The project has been hugely controversial as it used merciless "cold turkey" methods at a rehab centre in the city to break addicts' drug habits.
Roizman is also well-known in his region after a one-term stint in the Russian lower house of parliament from 2003 to 2007.
The election came after a bitter, deeply personal and sometimes even surreal campaign in the industrial centre of 1.35 million people, Russia's candidate for the EXPO 2020 World Exposition.
The city is known to history books as the place where Russia's last tsar, Nicholas II, was executed with his family by the Bolsheviks in 1918.
Roizman faced allegations, which he vehemently denied, of links to the mafia, while the press said he had a personal feud with the regional governor over a love triangle.
The woman at the top of the purported triangle, journalist and activist Aksana Panova, kept with Roizman and is now his campaign manager and partner.
On the day before the elections, false letters, purportedly signed by the head of the election commission, circulated saying that Roizman had been disqualified from the polls owing to a criminal probe.
The election commission Sunday confirmed it was a forgery, but Roizman alleged the letters had been published by the governor's office and had cost him votes.
In another curiosity that fuelled suspicion of dirty tricks, three of the other candidates had exactly the same surname, Burkov, and two of them were called Alexander.
Habitually dressed in a T-shirt or a sweatshirt, Roizman energised his campaign by going for public jogging sessions and is a complete contrast to the Soviet apparatchik style of Russian regional politicians.
The race had been predicted to be close and Roizman expressed no surprise over the strength of his result.
"We have stuck to our line and we are winning. There is no sensation, this is our city and we were born here," he told the Ren-TV television channel.
His challenge has parallels to that of protest leader Alexei Navalny in the Moscow mayor election. But Yekaterinburg is a fiercely individual city and Roizman appears to have gained by having local roots.
Prokhorov ran a relatively successful campaign when he stood against Putin in presidential elections in 2012, coming second to the Russian strongman in Moscow.
But the Brooklyn Nets basketball team owner then vanished from the political scene, leaving many Russians wondering quite how sincere his Kremlin challenge was.