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Putin's party claims big win in parliament vote amid crackdown

Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

President Vladimir Putin’s ruling party claimed a decisive victory in legislative polls, although discontent eroded support in some areas and opponents alleged widespread fraud.

United Russia was on track to maintain its majority of more than two-thirds of the seats in the State Duma with 99% of ballots counted, according to the Central Election Commission. While the ruling party won most of the regional races, in two regions, the ruling party came in second to the Communists, a rare defeat.

Nationally, United Russia’s “task was to confirm its leadership and it fulfilled that,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday.

While Putin personally retains broad support, according to polls, United Russia recorded some of the lowest ratings in nearly a decade earlier this year, scorned by voters angry about stagnant living standards.

But the Kremlin’s efforts to ensure another crushing victory appeared to pay off. As well as eliminating rival politicians from the vote, authorities pressured Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to remove protest voting apps from their online stores. Putin also pitched in with promises of as much as 700 billion rubles ($9.6 billion) in pension and other spending.

“The Kremlin is showing that it maintains control,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.

United Russia won 50% of the party-list vote, ahead of the Communist Party, which got 19%. Together with the district races through which the other half of seats are distributed, United Russia leader Andrei Turchak said the party was on track to win about 315 seats out of 450. That would be down slightly from 334 in the current Duma. The latest vote results reflected a drop from the 54% United Russia won five years ago.

Already Russia’s longest-entrenched ruler since dictator Josef Stalin, the 68-year-old Putin last year took advantage of two-thirds control of parliament to push through constitutional changes that allow him to stay in office until 2036.

Those changes also give the parliament greater say in government appointments, but it’s not clear whether Putin will make any changes after the vote. Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, said no decisions had yet been made.

 

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were the top two candidates on the United Russia party list, but there was no word Monday on whether they would in fact take seats in parliament.

Some polls put the ruling party’s popularity as low as 27%. Authorities squeezed independent competitors off the ballot and keeping turnout down to ensure the impact of loyalist voters among state workers and pensioners, according to people familiar with the planning.

In the Siberian region of Yakutia, one of the two where the Communist Party delivered United Russia an unusual defeat, the ruling party called for a recount.

Independent monitoring group Golos, deemed a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, recorded nearly 5,000 possible violations at polling stations across the country, double the number reported in the last elections five years ago. “The situation worsened compared to 2016,” said Golos co-head Grigory Melkonyants, citing the extension of voting over three days, which complicated the work of independent observers.

“These elections have taken place in an atmosphere of intimidating critical and independent voices,” said Peter Stano, spokesman for European Union diplomatic chief Josep Borrell, during a press briefing. He cited “independent and reliable sources reporting serious violations during the vote.”

Kremlin opponents, largely sidelined by the pre-vote crackdown, also alleged the results were marred by widespread fraud. Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said there were “far fewer” violations this time. Turnout was reported at 52%, up from 48% five years ago.

In Moscow, United Russia and its allies claimed victory in nearly all the district races, despite traditionally strong opposition support, triggering allegations the results were falsified. Several losing Communist candidates called for protests this week but city authorities denied them permits, citing the risk of coronavirus infection, Tass reported.

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