Putin's party scores crushing win in Russia parliament vote

Sunday’s ballot was smooth sailing for the authorities, with no sign of the mass protests following the last vote but it was also the election with the lowest turnout in Russia’s history.

Moscow // Russia’s ruling United Russia party has won a record number of seats in parliamentary polls that could pave the way for president Vladimir Putin to glide to a fourth term in 2018 elections.

With more than 98.3 per cent of the ballots counted, the United Russia party was on track to get 343 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, said the head of the central elections commission Ella Pamfilova.

Sunday’s ballot was smooth sailing for the authorities, with no sign of the mass protests following the last vote.

But it was also the election with the lowest turnout in Russia’s history, suggesting many may have been turned off by a system in which the Kremlin wields near-total power – and which could raise questions over legitimacy.

Only 47.8 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared with 60 per cent in 2011, electoral officials said.

Turnout was particularly low in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where less than 30 per cent of voters went to the polls.

The vote comes as Mr Putin’s ratings remain high at around 80 per cent, and the authorities appear to be banking on trouble-free presidential elections in two years’ time.

The Kremlin attributed the result to the president’s popularity.

“It’s obvious that the overwhelming majority of those who voted de facto voiced support for the president,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Looming large was the spectre of mass protests over vote-rigging that followed the last legislative polls five years ago and which grew into the biggest challenge to Mr Putin since he took charge in 2000.

Since then, the Kremlin has cracked down on the right to protest while making a show of stamping out electoral fraud.

The former scandal-tainted election chief was removed in favour of human rights advocate Ella Pamfilova, but she too was accused by the opposition of ignoring violations even when they were caught on camera.

Golos independent election monitors said on Monday that “there were fewer incidents of gross direct falsification than in 2011” but that the vote was “far from what can truly be called free and fair” because of the ruling party’s domination of the campaign.

* Agence France-Presse

Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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