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Putin’s United Russia head for victory in parliamentary election

A member of an election commission carries a ballot box as he and a colleague walk from house to house helping older villagers to vote during the Parliamentary elections in Nikolayevka village outside Omsk, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP)Premium
A member of an election commission carries a ballot box as he and a colleague walk from house to house helping older villagers to vote during the Parliamentary elections in Nikolayevka village outside Omsk, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. (AP)
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  • Result would allow Putin’s party to amend Russia’s constitution, but opponents say the vote was neither free nor fair

Russia’s ruling party was on course to control 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.

The preliminary tally with 95% of ballots counted showed pro-Kremlin United Russia won around 50% of votes cast, followed by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation with 19% and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with around 7%, according to results announced Monday by the Russia’s electoral commission.

The results show that United Russia was poised to receive a two-thirds majority of the State Duma’s 450 seats, 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.

United Russia’s 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."

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 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. Ella Pamfilova, the head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, said on Sunday there were 12 cases of ballot-stuffing and the agency had invalidated around 8,500 ballots, a number that could rise, according to the state news agency, RIA Novosti.

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.

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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