MOSCOW – Russia’s ruling party retained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament and claimed a landslide victory in opposition city Moscow – a blatant display of the Kremlin’s power as authorities announced on Monday the results of a national parliamentary election that opposition leaders denounced as clearly falsified.
Partial results released after the polls closed on Sunday evening showed significant gains for opposition parties and potential victories for several candidates backed by jailed opposition leader Alexei A. Navalny. But by the time Russia’s Central Election Commission revealed a near-full tally on Monday, those gains had largely disappeared – sparking anger from critics of the Kremlin, allegations of large-scale fraud and scattered calls for protests.
Russia’s elections are not free and fair, and the country’s best-known opposition figures were kicked out, jailed or exiled in the months leading up to the three-day vote that ended on Sunday. But Mr. Navalny’s allies had hoped to use a coordinated protest vote in the election to reprimand President Vladimir V. Putin.
The focal point of the opposition’s anger on Monday was the Russian capital, a stronghold of anti-Kremlin sentiment where the government had urged voters to vote online. The challengers of the ruling United Russia party led in several electoral districts before the results of the online vote were released, with a delay, on Monday. Soon after, the electoral commission declared the pro-Kremlin candidate the winner in each of those districts.
As a result, the ruling United Russia party won a dominant performance and retained its two-thirds “supermajority” in the lower house of parliament, the Duma – all despite approval ratings of less than 30% in recent polls. published by a state search. groups. The party won 50% of the vote with a turnout of 52% – and won 198 of the 225 seats allocated in direct elections in a single district.
“We never had a voting process we knew nothing about,” Roman Udot, co-director of Golos, an independent election monitoring group, said of Moscow’s online voting system. “There’s kind of a big, big skeleton in the closet here.”
A Moscow municipal government official explained the delay in compiling online votes by pointing to a “decoding” process that took “considerably longer than expected,” the Interfax news agency reported.
Mr Navalny said in a social media post from prison that the delay in releasing the results of the online vote had allowed the “clever little hands” of United Russia officials to “fake the results exactly the opposite “. The Communist Party, which came second nationally and in several of the district-level races in the capital, said it would not recognize the results of the online vote in Moscow.
But it wasn’t clear what, if anything, critics of the outcome might do about the situation. The judiciary is under the control of the Kremlin, while opposition figures are exiled or behind bars. Street protests are increasingly punished with prison terms.
Overall, the result further demonstrated Mr. Putin’s tightening of the lockdown on politics – and perhaps served as a dress rehearsal for the 2024 presidential election, in which Mr. Putin could run for office. fifth term.
“For the president, the main thing was and remains the competitiveness, openness and honesty of the elections,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov told reporters on Monday. “Of course, we are evaluating the electoral process in a very, very positive way. “
Kremlin critics had warned for weeks that online voting could open new avenues for fraud, as the tabulation process was even less transparent than the counting of paper ballots.
Communists called for a protest on Monday, but authorities in Moscow quickly denied them a permit due to restrictions linked to the pandemic, state news agencies said. Leonid Volkov, one of Mr Navalny’s main aides who tried to coordinate opposition votes from exile, did not urge people to take to the streets, but said he and his colleagues would support “any peaceful protest action” that might help reverse the results.
TV images Monday showed police trucks massing in Pushkin Square in central Moscow, but it was not clear whether protests would materialize.
“The Kremlin took this step because it was certain it could get away with it,” Volkov said in an article posted on the Telegram messaging app. “Putin decided he didn’t need to be afraid of the streets. Whether he’s right or not, we’ll find out.
Oleg Matsnev contributed reports.