Tuesday 10/26/21
RUSSIA

Putin's United Russia party wins elections despite smaller vote share

Meanwhile, observers and the opposition continued to speak of election fraud
A woman casts her vote on Sunday, during the parliamentary and local elections in Russia. Despite a smaller share of the vote than in 2016 - and after a campaign marred by complaints of election fraud - United Russia, the ruling pro-Kremlin party, emerged on Monday as the clear winner in the country's parliamentary elections. Photo: Sergei Mikhailichenko/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
A woman casts her vote on Sunday, during the parliamentary and local elections in Russia. Photo: Sergei Mikhailichenko/dpa.

Despite a smaller share of the vote than in 2016 - and after a campaign marred by complaints of election fraud - United Russia, the ruling pro-Kremlin party, emerged on Monday as the clear winner in the country's parliamentary elections.

United Russia came in at 49.8 per cent, the election commission announced in Moscow after more than 95 per cent of the votes had been counted.

This is down from the 54.2 per cent it got in 2016. Observers attributed this to discontent at falling wages and rising prices. Polling before the election had projected United Russia with only 30 per cent of the vote.

Instead, the election commission declared an absolute majority for United Russia.

Nonetheless, any votes moving away from United Russia still hint at voters expressing some dissatisfaction with the current system and a subtle change in status. For that reason, observers noted that the the Communist Party benefited from the drop in United Russia support, receiving 18.9 per cent of votes, up from 13.35 per cent five years ago.

The right-wing populist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) of ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky was projected to take 7.5 per cent of votes, while the A Just Russia party received 7.5 per cent. The New People party also cracked the 5-per-cent hurdle.

Those three parties, plus United Russia and the communists will be the five parties in the next Duma, said Election Commissioner Ella Pamfilova. But the non-United Russia parties do not fit the classical mode of an opposition group. All are loyal to the current system of government and unlikely to block any major Kremlin initiatives.

But United Russia lost its majority in Yakutia, also known as the Siberian Republic of Sakha, only coming in second with some 33 per cent of votes, behind the communists at some 35 per cent, which was an increase of almost 20 percentage points compared to the last elections, according to figures from the electoral commission.

Forest fires

According to observers, support for United Russia in the region is down due to the devastating forest fires that have raged there for months, with citizens unhappy with the authorities' response.

Representatives of United Russia requested a review of the count, according to the Yakutian election commission.

President Vladimir Putin's United Russia already celebrated its victory late on Sunday, the final day of the three-day nationwide election, despite only a few votes having been counted at the time. The party hopes to garner a new majority of more than 300 of the 450 seats in the country's lower house, the State Duma.

Meanwhile, observers and the opposition continued to speak of election fraud. Opposition candidates in Moscow complained of irregularities, saying online voting results there were not published until well on the day on Monday, while there had already been results from other parts of the country a few hours after polling stations closed on Sunday.

The Kremlin stressed on Monday that the elections were "free and fair."

But observers and the opposition were having none of it.

"We do not recognize the results of electronic voting in Moscow," Russian Communist Party deputy leader Dmitry Novikov said.

An estimated 300 Communisty Party supporters gathered peacefully at Pushkin Square in the centre of the Russian capital on Monday evening to demand Putin resign, radio station Echo of Moscow reported.

According to the broadcaster, they were responding to calls by members of the party, who feel they were a victim of vote-rigging that favoured United Russia.

Fraud claims

The independent voter rights organization Golos spoke of clearly verifiable fraud and called on the election commission to annul the results. Golos expert Roman Udot said on Facebook that 78,000 more ballot papers were shown for online voting than were given to eligible voters.

In most of Moscow's constituencies, candidates from parties other than the pro-Kremlin United Russia party were in the lead following the count of ballots at polling stations, but they were suddenly overtaken by United Russia candidates when the results of the online vote came in.

The European Union and the United States also criticized the elections.

"These elections have taken place in an atmosphere of intimidating critical and independent voices," a spokesperson for the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said in Brussels.

In the run-up, there had been an intensified crackdown on opposition politicians, the media and civil society organizations.

The spokesperson added that the EU would "never recognize the elections in illegally annexed Crimea," but that it was up to individual member states to recognize the Russian results as a whole.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the elections "took place under conditions not conducive to free and fair proceedings."

The team of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, whose allies were prevented from running, spoke of the "dirtiest election" in years.

Around 110 million people in Russia and abroad were called to vote for the new Duma. Voter turnout was reported at 51.6 per cent.

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