Russia's pro-Putin party wins majority in election after crackdown

MOSCOW • Russia's ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, retained its parliamentary majority after an election and a sweeping crackdown on its critics, but opponents alleged widespread fraud.

With 85 per cent of ballots counted yesterday, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won nearly 50 per cent of the vote, with its nearest rival, the Communist Party, at just under 20 per cent.

Although that amounts to an emphatic official win, it is a slightly weaker performance for United Russia than at the last parliamentary election in 2016, when the party won just over 54 per cent of the vote.

A malaise over years of faltering living standards and allegations of corruption from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have drained some support, compounded by a tactical voting campaign organised by Navalny's allies.

Kremlin critics, who alleged large-scale vote rigging, said the election was, in any case, a sham. United Russia would have fared much worse in a fair contest, without a pre-election crackdown that outlawed Navalny's movement, barred his allies from running and targeted critical media and non-governmental organisations, they said.

The electoral authorities said they had voided any results at voting stations where there had been obvious irregularities, and that the overall contest had been fair.

The outcome looks unlikely to change the political landscape, with Mr Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, still dominating ahead of the next presidential election in 2024.

Mr Putin has yet to say whether he will run. He was due to speak yesterday. The 68-year-old leader remains a popular figure with many Russians who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride.

The near-complete results showed the Communist Party finishing second, followed by the nationalist the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Fair Russia party with just over 7 per cent each.

All three parties usually back the Kremlin on most key issues.

A new party called New People appeared to have squeezed into Parliament with just over 5 per cent.

At a celebratory rally at United Russia's headquarters broadcast on state television, Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of the Russian leader, shouted "Putin! Putin! Putin!" to a flag-waving crowd that echoed his chant.

Allies of Navalny, who is serving a jail sentence for parole violations he denies, had encouraged tactical voting against United Russia, a scheme that amounted to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat it in a given electoral district.

In many cases, they had advised people to hold their noses and vote Communist. The authorities had tried to block the initiative online.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2021, with the headline 'Russia's pro-Putin party wins majority in election after crackdown'. Subscribe