Pro-Kremlin party retains large majority in Russian parliament

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MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s ruling party has retained its qualified majority in parliament, strengthening President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power following elections that excluded most opposition politicians and been marred by multiple reports of violations.

The vote was closely watched for signs that Putin’s control could slip, even slightly, ahead of the 2024 presidential election. It is not yet clear whether he will stand for re-election, choose a successor, or chart a course. different – but he should keep his hand on the bar no matter what he decides, and an obedient State Duma, or parliament, will be crucial to these plans.

Results released Monday at nearly 99 percent of polling stations nationwide gave the ruling United Russia party 49.8 percent of the votes for the 225 party seats, according to the Central Election Commission. Another 225 lawmakers are chosen directly by voters, and the results showed that candidates from United Russia led in 198 of those races.

Ella Pamfilova, the commission’s head, confirmed that United Russia has retained the so-called constitutional majority in parliament – at least two-thirds of the 450 seats required for a party to change the country’s constitution.

In fact, the results indicated that there would be almost no opposition votes in the Duma, with three other parties generally following the Kremlin line and expected to win most of the remaining seats, along with the New People party. , which was formed last year. and is considered by many to be a Kremlin sponsored project.

According to Pamfilova, candidates from three other parties each won one seat, so a total of eight political parties will be represented in the Duma. The turnout was 51%, she said.

The Communist Party got 19% of the party list vote, a huge improvement from the 13% it got in the 2016 election. United Russia got around 54% five years ago, the results show therefore a drop in support.

But fears that the results had been manipulated escalated on Monday, with many lamenting that an outage in online voting in Moscow was still not accessible to the public. The results in the other six regions authorized to vote online were detailed. In Moscow, the approval of the ruling party has always been particularly weak and the protest vote has been widespread. Communist Party candidates called for demonstrations later in the day.

Fraud allegations aside, the Kremlin sweep was widely expected as few opposition candidates were even allowed to run this year after Russian authorities launched a sweeping crackdown on Kremlin critics.

Organizations linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny have been declared extremists, and anyone associated with them has been barred from running for public office by a new law. Navalny is serving a 2.5-year prison sentence for parole violation following a previous conviction he says was politically motivated.

Other opposition politicians have been prosecuted or have been forced to leave the country under pressure from the authorities.

Navalny’s team hoped to start the dominance of United Russia with their smart voting strategy, which promoted candidates who had the best chance of defeating those backed by the Kremlin. However, authorities have embarked on a massive effort to suppress the strategy in recent weeks.

The government blocked the Smart Voting website and pressured Apple and Google to remove an app featuring it from their Russian online stores – a move made by the tech giants at the start of the vote on Friday. Google also denied access to two documents on its online service Google Docs listing candidates approved by Smart Voting, and YouTube has blocked similar videos. In addition, the founder of Russian messaging app Telegram, Pavel Durov, on Saturday deactivated a Smart Voting chatbot set up by Navalny allies.

Durov said he wanted to abide by laws prohibiting campaigning on polling days, but critics were quick to point out that this had not turned off similar chatbots mimicking smart voting and removed the mayor’s call. of Moscow to vote for United Russia candidates.

Apple and Google did not respond to a request for comment. However, a person with first-hand knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Google was forced to remove the app because it faced legal requirements from the from regulators and threats of criminal prosecution in Russia.

The vote was marred by numerous reports of violations, including ballot stuffing. Some videos on social media showed people trying to stuff thick stacks of ballots into ballot boxes, with only flimsy attempts to block the view of surveillance cameras by lifting mops or pieces of cardboard. Brawls with election observers were also filmed.

Some Kremlin critics have said there were as many violations as in the 2011 parliamentary elections, when reports of massive fraud sparked months of anti-government and anti-Putin protests. Pamfilova, however, argued that there had been fewer violations this year than before. She said 25,830 ballots in 35 regions were invalidated.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin viewed the election “quite positively” in terms of “competitiveness, transparency and fairness”.

Putin himself thanked the Russians “for the confidence” and for “a proactive approach to life”, referring to the turnout, which was higher than in 2011.

Voting was extended to three days due to the coronavirus, and in seven of Russia’s more than 80 regions, voters were given the opportunity to vote online. Officials said steps were taken to reduce turnout during the pandemic, but election observers said this created more room to manipulate the results.

There were particular concerns in Moscow, where nearly 2 million votes were cast online, and the results of some races changed dramatically at the last minute on Monday.

“The results of a fraudulent and unverifiable online vote in Moscow must be completely invalidated,” Navalny chief strategist Leonid Volkov wrote on Facebook.

Others wondered why Moscow’s online voting results had not been broken down as they had been for other regions.

“As far as I know, data from offline polling stations shows that candidates (approved by) Smart Voting won in 12 out of 15 (single-constituency) districts, and in St. Petersburg – in seven out of eight,” Navalny said in a social media post relayed by his lawyers from prison.

“So the robot thought about it, lit a cigarette and decided to slow down the publication until the smart little hands of United Russia falsified the results into completely opposite results,” he said.

Valery Rashkin, a senior Communist Party member who ran for office, urged supporters to gather in Pushkin Square in central Moscow on Monday evening to “discuss” election results and protest violations reported. “Come with us to fight for our rights! Wrote Rashkin, who was backed by Smart Voting and initially led but lost to an opponent from United Russia.

Russian news site Ura.ru published a video showing that the square was already fenced and surrounded by police vans.

Independent political analyst Masha Lipman said anecdotal evidence of violations suggests voting may have been even more problematic than in 2011, but she believes a wave of protests as large as 10 years ago is unlikely.

“There’s a huge difference in the mood of the public between 2011, when people took to the streets (and now),” Lipman said.

“Between 2011-2012 and now, the government has toughened its policy quite dramatically,” she said. “The last time we had mass protests in the streets earlier this year, they were very brutally suppressed, and it seems that this policy of brutal repression and intimidation has worked. “

Anna Frants in Moscow and Kelvin Chan in London contributed.


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