Vladimir Putin’s ruling party is set to win a decisive victory in legislative polls, authorities said, although discontent eroded support in some regions and opponents alleged widespread fraud.
United Russia was on track to maintain its majority of more than two-thirds of the seats in the State Duma with 75% of ballots counted, according to the Central Election Commission. While the ruling party won most of the regional races, in one major Siberian region, the ruling party came in second to the Communists, a rare defeat.
While Putin personally retains broad support, according to polls, United Russia recorded some of the lowest ratings in nearly a decade earlier this year, scorned by voters angry about stagnant living standards.
But the Kremlin’s efforts to ensure another crushing victory appeared to pay off. As well as eliminating rival politicians from the vote, authorities pressured Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to remove protest voting apps from their online stores. Putin also pitched in with promises of as much as 700 billion rubles ($9.6 billion) in pension and other spending.
“The Kremlin is showing that it maintains control,” said Alexei Makarkin, deputy director of the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
United Russia won 49% of the party-list vote, ahead of the Communist Party, which got 20%, according to results from more than three-quarters of ballots. Together with the district races through which the other half of seats are distributed, United Russia was on track to win about 304 seats out of 450, Tass reported. That would be down slightly from 334 in the current Duma.
Independent monitoring group Golos, deemed a “foreign agent” by the Russian government, recorded nearly 5,000 possible violations at polling stations across the country. Kremlin opponents, largely sidelined by the pre-vote crackdown, alleged the results were marred by widespread fraud.
Authorities said any violations weren’t numerous enough to affect the outcome.
Already Russia’s longest-entrenched ruler since dictator Josef Stalin, the 68-year-old Putin last year took advantage of two-thirds control of parliament to push through constitutional changes that allow him to stay in office until 2036.
Some polls put the ruling party’s popularity as low as 27%. But the latest results suggested the Kremlin was likely to hit its target of about 45% of the party-list vote.
Authorities squeezed independent competitors off the ballot and keeping turnout down to ensure the impact of loyalist voters among state workers and pensioners, according to people familiar with the planning.
In the Siberian region of Yakutia, where the Communist Party delivered United Russia an unusual defeat, the ruling party was calling for a recount.
After mass protests triggered by elections in neighboring Belarus last year alarmed the Kremlin, Moscow strongly backed Belarus strongman President Alexander Lukashenko in crushing the opposition, despite criticism and sanctions from the West.
Russian authorities then mounted a fierce crackdown after tens of thousands of people rallied in cities across Russia in January following the imprisonment of opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
After narrowly surviving a nerve-agent attack last year that he and Western governments blamed on the Kremlin, the 45-year-old Putin critic is in a penal colony. Russian officials deny any role in his poisoning.
Authorities banned Navalny’s national network this year, forced his supporters into exile or jail and did all they could to sabotage his “smart voting” initiative that urges people to back the strongest candidate against United Russia.
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