Russian President Vladimir Putin faces his first electoral test later on Sunday since his return to the Kremlin in May.
It is being seen as an indicator of whether he can reassert control after the country’s largest opposition protests for more than a decade.
One demonstration leader, Veygeniya Chirikova, is running for mayor in one Moscow suburb. She says the opposition should achieve change by winning at the ballot box.
“We think it is necessary to organise groups of self-adminstration, grassroots movements… these groups which have learnt to self-organise and to mobilise people for action, should struggle for power, enter the local administration structures and change the situation from the ground up,” said Chrikova.
Political analysts say increased opposition dissent means it will be tougher for the Kremlin to ignore public opinion any longer.
“After December’s parliamentary elections, Russia moved forward. This country is changing. She and the overwhelming majority of people feel that the time is ripe for change,” said Valery Solovey of the Moscow Institute of International Relations.
“Change is inevitable and unavoidable. What is more imporant is that this feeling penetrates even the authorities too.”
Voters will go the polls in 77 of Russia’s regions. Five of the country’s 88 powerful regional governors are also up for re-election.
Putin scrapped electing governors in his previous term in 2004. His predecessor Dmitry Medvedev restored them in December after the anti-Kremlin protests broke out.