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Putin's party wins Russian parliamentary election

September 21, 2021

The pro-Putin United Russia party won the country's parliamentary elections following a clampdown against Kremlin critics. Opposition figures have claimed election fraud.

People standing at a screen displaying preliminary voting results at the Information center of the Russian Central Election Commission
The three-day elections have been marred by complaints of widespread violations, but the Kremlin said they were open and honestImage: Vladimir Gerdo/Tass/dpa/picture alliance

The Kremlin-loyal United Russia party has recorded an overwhelming victory in Russia's parliamentary elections.

With all the votes tallied, the electoral commission said Tuesday that United Russia had won 49.83% of the vote. It was also ahead in 198 seats of the 225 deputies apportioned by party lists.

On Twitter, the party said it had received a constitutional majority.

Putin thanks voters for 'trust'

Russian President Vladimir Putin thanked voters for their "trust." United Russia will have more than two-thirds of deputies in the 450-seat lower house of parliament, known as the State Duma.  

While the pro-Kremlin force got a comfortable majority, it lost the ground it made in the 2016 elections, when it secured 54% of the vote.

The Communist Party, which usually supports the Kremlin, garnered nearly 19% of the vote. The pro-Kremlin nationalist LDPR party and the Fair Russia party also each brought in around 7.5% of the vote.

A new pro-Putin party called New People also managed to win seats in parliament for the first time, having garnered just over 5% of the vote.

On Sunday afternoon, voter turnout was about 40%.

The outcome was described as unsurprising, given the government's unprecedented crackdown on opposition politicians, who were either jailed, banned from running or forced to flee the country.

Hundreds of voting violations reported

Political opponents have accused authorities of voter fraud. Jailed critic Alexei Navalny's spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said: "This is truly unbelievable, I remember the feeling in 2011, when they stole the election. The same is happening right now."

Communist Party deputy leader Dmitry Novikov called for voting results in Moscow to be annulled. Results from the capital were published Monday afternoon, with results from other regions having come in on Sunday evening.

"We do not recognize the results of electronic voting in Moscow," Novikov said. 

The Kremlin said polling had been transparent and honest. "The competitiveness, openness and honesty of the elections were and are the most important thing for the president," government spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the press.

Election officials said they received at least 750 complaints about voting violations over the past three days, Interfax news agency reported Sunday evening, citing the Interior Ministry. 

There was no information about serious violations that could affect the outcome of the vote, Interfax said. 

Independent observers of the Golos organization listed over 3,600 irregularities nationwide, most documented with photographs and video footage. 

Navalny supporters and the Russian election

In several regions, there had also been "massive violations" of the rights of observers and candidates, for example. Holding the election over three days had "considerably widened the scope for violations," Golos said.

US, UK, EU slam election conditions

Multiple Western countries criticized the Russian authorities and their behavior during the elections. 

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

"We do not recognize holding elections for the Russian Duma on sovereign Ukrainian territory and reaffirm our unwavering support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine," Price added, a reference to the Crimean Peninsula which was annexed by Russia in 2014. 

The UK Foreign Office said "measures taken by the Russian authorities to marginalize civil society, silence independent media and exclude genuine opposition candidates from participating in the elections undermine political plurality and are at odds with the international commitments that Russia has signed up to." 

The European Union expressed its concern over the political intimidation ahead of the elections.

"What we have seen in the run-up to these elections was an atmosphere of intimidation of all the critical independent voices," said EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano. 

Germany also added its voice and called for clarity regarding allegations of irregularities. "These are very serious reports that massive irregularities occurred," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday.

Critics banned

The three-day parliamentary vote took place as Putin's best-known opponent, Alexei Navalny, sits in jail, with his organization banned and labeled "extremist."

As such, anyone with ties to Navalny who sought to compete in the vote was barred.

Some 13 parties took part, but they are widely seen as token opposition that the Kremlin allows to run.

United Russia's dominance has helped the Kremlin approve major constitutional reforms, one of which allows Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.

"If United Russia manages [to win], our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years," Navalny's blog warned supporters ahead of the vote.

Navalny's allies made a final plea to voters on his Instagram account on Sunday. "Today is a day when your voice truly matters," wrote the team that is running Navalny's account while he is in prison.

The Kremlin has denied the crackdown on opposition parties is politically motivated, saying individuals are just being prosecuted for breaking the law.

Apple, Google take down Navalny's app

To overcome their disadvantages, Navalny's camp promoted a strategy of tactical voting, using the so-called "Smart Voting" app to tell supporters which candidate is most likely to defeat United Russia in a given electoral district.

But the move was thwarted under the pressure from Russian authorities. On Friday, Apple, Telegram and Google removed Navalny's app from their stores.

"It will be interesting to see whether those candidates could win in some disputed districts and perhaps make a dent in United Russia's control of the Duma," DW's Moscow correspondent Emily Sherwin said ahead of the results.

Sherwin also noted that the Communist Party, which is traditionally loyal to the Kremlin, is polling second.

"They've also been getting a lot of the protest vote. If they take a larger percentage of the votes, that could shake things up in parliament," she said.

kb, mm, jcg, ar, wd/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)