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Ruling party set to sweep Russian election after Navalny crackdown

Newsletter: Europe Express

Russia’s ruling Kremlin-controlled party is set to renew its supermajority after Sunday’s parliamentary elections, following a campaign marked by a crackdown on supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The United Russia party, which backs President Vladimir Putin, was on track to win a two-thirds majority in the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, election officials said on Monday after 85 per cent of the vote was counted.

Although the result was largely in line with state-run opinion polls before the election, opposition supporters alleged widespread fraud at the ballot box and accused the Kremlin of interference.

Golos, an independent election monitor that was declared a “foreign agent last month,” said it had recorded 4,525 possible violations at polling stations. But officials said they had only found eight cases of ballot-stuffing in 12 provinces and claimed none of the falsifications could have affected the result.

United Russia was on track to win just under 50 per cent of the vote, slightly below its 54 per cent total at the last election in 2016. The party said it would be enough to retain its supermajority once results were factored in from first-past-the-post districts, which account for half of the seats.

Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, one of the president’s top allies, chanted “Putin! Putin! Putin! Putin! Putin! Putin! Victory!”, as a few hundred United Russia supporters braved rainy weather to wave flags outside party headquarters on Sunday night.

Turnout was about 45 per cent, one of the lowest on record, indicating widespread apathy after a campaign aimed at dissuading opposition supporters from voting at all.

The Kremlin had sought to deliver a resounding victory for the party in the last election before Putin’s presidential term expires in 2024. But the highly stage-managed vote, in which the opposition accused officials of widespread ballot-stuffing and fraud, could not disguise popular anger at falling living standards.

Screens showing polling stations at the headquarters of Russia’s Central Election Commission in Moscow © Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

In Moscow, United Russia’s candidates trailed some challengers in first-past-the-post districts, and nearly 2m online votes in the capital have yet to be counted.

The Communist party, the largest of the normally docile official opposition parties and the only one to challenge the Kremlin on any major policy issues in recent years, was set to win just under 20 per cent of the vote — almost double its total in 2016. Its victories over United Russia in Yakutia and the Nenets, two far-flung northern provinces, were the only instances where United Russia lost in the proportional vote.

New People, a Kremlin-aligned party seeking to capture some of Navalny’s support among the urban middle class, appeared to be the only party not currently in the Duma to squeak past the 5 per cent barrier.

Although the 68-year-old president is much more popular than United Russia, maintaining a supermajority for the party will be crucial for the Kremlin to continue an agenda that last year included constitutional reforms that potentially extend Putin’s rule until 2036 and several laws used to crush Navalny’s supporters in the lead-up to the vote.

Dozens of opposition candidates were struck from the ballot — several of them over their ties to Navalny. Several who did make it on have accused the Kremlin of running spoiler candidates with almost identical names — and, in at least one case, appearance — to split the protest vote.

The Kremlin had moved to crush a “smart voting” campaign by Navalny using an internet app to direct discontented voters towards one of the Kremlin-run opposition parties that was allowed on the ballot, mostly the Communists. Apple and Google removed Navalny’s app from their stores on Friday after Russia threatened to arrest their employees.

In the months leading up to the vote, Russia banned Navalny’s foundation, prompting most of his most prominent allies to leave the country, and designated several independent media outlets and NGOs as “foreign agents”.

The Kremlin has justified the crackdown as necessary to thwart foreign interference in the election but denied any involvement in striking candidates from the ballot.

File source

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