In a first, opposition lawmakers walked out on Prime Minister and president-elect Vladimir Putin during his final report to the State Duma in Moscow on Wednesday.
The walkout was prompted by Putin’s comment on the situation in Astrakhan, where a mayoral candidate with A Just Russia party, Oleg Shein, is on the 27th day of a hunger strike to protest alleged vote fraud that he said cost him his victory.
“If the violations can put into question the outcome [of the elections], then the court needs to cancel [the vote],” Putin said, fielding a question about Astrakhan from a Just Russia lawmaker.
“From what I know, your colleague Shein went on hunger strike, but never complained to court. This is somewhat strange, to tell the truth,” Putin said.
Following his reply, deputies with A Just Russia, which holds 64 of 450 seats in the parliament’s lower chamber, left the assembly hall. Faction head Nikolai Levichev, however, later returned to ask Putin another question on an unrelated topic.
Shein said earlier that violations were documented by surveillance cameras, but that government officials stalled on his request to provide him all relevant footage, preventing him from appealing all violations.
A Just Russia made no public statement on the situation as of Wednesday afternoon, but said it was holding a snap meeting of its Duma faction.
Duma lawmakers never walked out on Putin before during his tenure as prime minister since 2008, but opposition representatives left the assembly hall in 2009 to protest alleged widespread violations at regional elections.