As expected, the United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, is on track to secure a victory in the country’s three-day parliamentary election that ended on Sunday (19), despite having lost ground in the previous election.
According to the Central Election Commission, with 25% of the ballots counted, the Kremlin support party has 44.2% of the votes, a result close to that pointed out by the exit of the ballot box carried out by Insomar and published by the RIA news agency, which predicted a slice of 45%.
Also according to the official results, the Communist Party is in second place, with 22.3% of the votes, followed by the nationalist LDPR (8.5%). Both acronyms commonly support the Kremlin on key votes.
Since Friday (17), the Russians have gone to the polls to elect the 450 new deputies to the Duma, the lower house of Parliament — which today has 336 of its seats belonging to United Russia. There were also local legislative elections.
Even victorious, the pro-Putin party lost ground in relation to the last parliamentary election, in 2016, when it obtained 54% of the votes. Its popularity has been declining in recent years due to a drop in living standards and also after the anti-Kremlin movement regained traction, although it has no electoral or party organization.
One of the leading names in the opposition, Alexei Navalni was poisoned and, after returning from treatment in Germany, was arrested and convicted of violating parole by leaving the country in a coma. The case has taken the Russians to the streets in a massive way this year, but increasing police repression has ended up disrupting the resistance.
Navalni’s foundation, who is still being held in a jail near Moscow, had already been the target of the Kremlin’s crackdown on being considered a foreign agent, and is subject to crippling tax inspections and fines based on the assumption that they receive foreign money — which is true in many cases—to defame the state—which is debatable.
All NGOs and independent press vehicles face the same situation, in a country where the media is almost entirely state-owned. The opponent’s organization, however, also came to be labeled an extremist, which led to at least five of its main leaders being barred from the election.
This suffocation generated criticism from the opposition, which called the election a farce. The Kremlin denies carrying out a political crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Putin himself said that Navalni only responds to justice, ignoring the alignment of the courts.
To get around the impediment from participating in the election, Navalni’s team had been working since 2018 on a tactic called “smart voting”: supporting anyone outside United Russia to have a chance in a particular region.
Last week, the opposition group nominated 1,234 candidates across the country — the communist majority — to be the object of the smart vote, whose online campaign was even the target of an attempt to blockade by the authorities.
Google, Apple and Telegram also limited some access to the smart voting campaign, prompting accusations by activists that the companies caved in to government pressure. “One day, we will live in a Russia where it will be possible to vote for good candidates with different political platforms,” Navalni’s ally Leonid Volkov wrote in the Telegram before the polls closed on Sunday.
In addition to the repression in the pre-election period, the electoral monitoring group Golos (voice, or vote, in Russian) pointed out several violations such as threats against observers and fraudulent votes, with records circulating on social networks of filmed citizens depositing packets of ballots in a urn.
The Central Electoral Commission, in turn, confirmed that it had registered cases of fraudulent votes in eight regions, but that these results would be nullified.
The controversies, however, were not enough to remove United Russia from the leadership. The party should use the victory, however thin, as a testament to the broad support of Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999 and is still a popular figure for many Russians who see him as an advocate of pride. national and against Western initiatives.
Anatoli, a retiree who lives in Moscow and declined to give his last name, told Reuters news agency he voted for United Russia because he is proud of the president’s efforts to restore what he sees as the country’s legitimate world power status.
“Countries like the US and the UK more or less respect us now as they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 1970s,” he opined. “The Anglo-Saxons understand only the language of force.”
Opponents of the Kremlin support acronym, such as Roman Malakhov, who voted for the Communist Party, say that United Russia “has not done anything good”. There was also a certain apathy, with a turnout of about 47% of voters — voting is not mandatory. “I don’t see the point in voting,” a hairdresser in Moscow who identified herself as Irina told Reuters. “It’s all been decided by us.”
Even though he is an autocratic president, paradoxically Putin needs popular support to maintain his power scheme. His maneuvers have a legalistic veneer, and the president has always played within the Constitution. When he decided to change it in 2020 to open the way and try to stay in power until 2036, he did it with a plebiscite — also the target of fraud charges.