Pro-Putin party wins control of Russia’s parliament

With 99.7% of ballots counted, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had won around 50% of votes in the election, according to Russia’s electoral commission on Monday (Photo: AFP)
With 99.7% of ballots counted, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had won around 50% of votes in the election, according to Russia’s electoral commission on Monday (Photo: AFP)


Result will allow United Russia to amend the country’s constitution, but opponents say the vote was neither free nor fair

MOSCOW : Russia’s ruling party won control of two-thirds of the seats in the Russian parliament, a showing that will allow the government to enact changes to the constitution and bolsters the power of President Vladimir Putin.

The result also reflected the weakness of the opposition led by jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, which claimed that the vote was neither free nor fair. In the run-up to the three-day vote, which ended Sunday, the Kremlin has largely suppressed any opposition.

With 99.7% of ballots counted, the pro-Kremlin United Russia party had won around 50% of votes in the election, according to Russia’s electoral commission on Monday. It was followed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation with 19% and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 7.5%.

United Russia received a two-thirds majority of the State Duma’s 450 seats, the commission said, which would allow it to amend the constitution. Such a majority would make it easier for Mr. Putin to back any effort he makes to extend his time in power beyond his current term, which expires in 2024.

During a meeting Monday with Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s Election Commission, Mr. Putin thanked Russians who voted for their confidence and active turnout. He told them that “stability in the country, the prosperity of Russia, and its movement forward really depend on [the State Duma’s] work," the state news agency TASS cited him as saying.

The commission did not announce the exact number of seats United Russia had won. Its previous majority of 334 seats allowed Mr. Putin to easily push through constitutional reforms that give him the option of remaining in power for another 12 years. The Kremlin leader helped found United Russia and still supports it, although he isn’t a formal member.

“United Russia has certainly fulfilled the task of confirming its leadership," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Monday, adding that Mr. Putin assesses the result positively. “The competitiveness, openness and honesty of the elections were and are the most important thing for the president."

Mr. Navalny’s top aide, Leonid Volkov, said that the opposition movement didn’t recognize the election result due to alleged voting irregularities. He said Mr. Navalny’s team would support peaceful protest action.

The victory by the ruling party also signals to Russian allies and rivals alike that Mr. Putin’s control over the main levers of power in Russia remains steadfast. Russian relations with the West, particularly the U.S., are at the lowest point since the Cold War.

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia remain high despite a summit in June between President Biden and his Russian counterpart. The U.S. has imposed sanctions on a number of government and business leaders close to Mr. Putin in punishment for what Washington says was Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

United Russia’s election result is down from the 54% it won in the 2016 election. The success of the communists and liberal parties in eroding some of the ruling party’s dominance shows the level of discontent with the ruling party, analysts said.

But the gains of these opposition parties, which are sanctioned by the Kremlin, are unlikely to present Mr. Putin with any imminent political threat because in the past they have largely tended to vote in favor of legislation the Russian leader supports.

“Putin reconfirmed his control of the country," said Abbas Gallyamov, a Moscow-based political consultant and former speechwriter for Mr. Putin. “The result is not surprising, taking into account all the measures taken against the opposition and all the repressions."

The so-called non-systemic opposition, most notably that led by Mr. Navalny, described the results of the election as a farce and accused Mr. Putin’s government of stealing the vote.

“This is really unthinkable," Kira Yarmysh, Mr. Navalny’s press secretary tweeted. “I remember the feeling in 2011 when the elections were stolen. And the same thing is happening now. It’s impossible to get used to this. It’s impossible to accept this."

Opposition parties, independent observers and activists reported incidents of vote tampering, including ballot stuffing and pressure on employees in state-owned companies to vote. Ms. Pamfilova on Monday said the agency had invalidated more than 25,000 ballots, though she called that an insignificant number. She said that this year’s electoral campaign saw considerably fewer irregularities than in the past.

The results show that the non-systemic opposition, beset by the authorities’ heavy-handed crackdown on their activists in the lead up to the vote, will struggle to present a credible political challenge, analysts said.

The gains for candidates supported by the systemic opposition show that it is strengthening its electoral base but is still unable to convert that growing support into real power, Mr. Gallyamov said.

United Russia’s “overwhelming victory will likely be treated as a signal of public trust in the government’s performance," Andrius Tursa, Central and Eastern Europe adviser at consulting firm Teneo wrote in a note to clients on Monday. “However, the vote cannot be considered as free and fair, while [United Russia’s] election result masks the waning popularity of President Vladimir Putin’s regime."

Mr. Putin’s approval rating has slipped to 61% in August from close to 90% in 2015, according to independent pollster Levada Center, as standards of living have stagnated in recent years.

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