Russian Opposition Criticizes ‘Sham Elections’ After Putin’s Party Sweeps Votes

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The Russian opposition accused the authorities of massive electoral fraud, as the results of Monday’s elections showed that the ruling United Russia party won a large majority in parliament.

The three-day vote that ended on Sunday followed an unprecedented crackdown on critics of President Vladimir Putin and came with pre-election polls showing United Russia’s popularity at an all-time low.

But the party still claimed a two-thirds majority in the lower house state Duma, and Andrei Turchak of United Russia said it was a “clear and convincing victory.”

He told reporters that the party had obtained 120 seats from the party’s list and 195 single-term seats, a total of 315 seats out of 450.

It was a drop from the 334 seats United Russia held before the elections, but still enough for the party to enact important laws, including changes to the constitution.

With 95 percent of the votes counted at 1000 GMT on Monday, United Russia was ahead with 49.6 percent of the votes, followed by the Communist Party with 19.2 percent.

‘Truly amazing’

Predictions by state pollsters had suggested that United Russia would win only about 30 percent.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the “competitiveness, openness and honesty” of the elections, saying it was clear that “United Russia is the main preference of the voters.”

But allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition figure, called the results outlandish.

“This is really unbelievable. I remember the feeling in 2011 when the elections were stolen. The same is happening now,” Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said.

Allegations of widespread fraud in 2011 sparked large protests led by Navalny, who was arrested in January and jailed on long-standing fraud charges following a poisoning that blamed the Kremlin.

His allies said the vote was being falsified on a massive scale, noting especially the repeated delays in publishing the results of electronic voting in opposition-friendly Moscow.

The European Union said the elections had suffered from intimidation and limited “credible” oversight, while Germany called for “clarification” of allegations of fraud.

Navalny’s organizations were banned for being “extremists” before the elections and their main allies were arrested or fled and anyone associated with their groups was prevented from running.

Profits for the communists

Navalny’s team had asked opposition supporters to back other candidates who could potentially defeat United Russia, most of them from the Communist Party, and the results indicated that the “Smart Voting” campaign may have had some impact.

United Russia’s share of the vote fell from 54.2 percent in the last parliamentary elections in 2016, while the Communists saw their support grow from 13.3 percent.

Three other parties appeared to have reached the five percent threshold needed to enter parliament: the nationalist LDPR, the newly formed “New People” party, and “A Just Russia,” all with less than 10 percent.

Veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he was sure his party’s votes had been stolen.

“These are bogus elections that no one needs and they are deepening social divisions in society,” Zyuganov, whose party has been accused of following the Kremlin line in the past, told reporters on Monday.

He said the communists had “received colossal support” and that “vote theft” had undermined confidence in Putin and his government.

Navalny’s top aide, Leonid Volkov, said the tactical voting project had “shaken” Russia’s political elite.

“We forced them to admit defeat or fake, in front of everyone, absolutely blatantly, without any shame. To admit moral bankruptcy,” Volkov said during a post-election live broadcast on YouTube.

The authorities clamped down on the “Smart Voting” campaign, which provided lists of candidates with the best hope of denying Kremlin-aligned politicians a seat.

The campaign website was shut down and Apple and Google removed the Smart Voting app from their stores, allegedly under threats of arresting their local staff.

Popular messenger Telegram also removed Navalny’s smart voting bot, and Google Docs and YouTube videos containing recommended candidate lists were blocked.

Turnout was 45 percent, according to the latest figures released by the electoral commission on Sunday.

Critics had argued that online voting, new limits for poll watchers and polls that spanned three days – a move officials said was reducing coronavirus risks – presented opportunities for fraud.

Putin, 68, remains very popular, but United Russia has seen its support drop as living standards have declined after years of economic stagnation.

(AFP)

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