Russia’s ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, has retained its parliamentary majority after an election and a sweeping crackdown on its critics, but opponents allege widespread fraud.
With 85 per cent of ballots counted on Monday, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won nearly 50 per cent of the vote, with its nearest rival, the Communist Party, at just under 20 per cent.
It is a slightly weaker performance for United Russia than at the last parliamentary election in 2016, when the party won just over 54 per cent of the vote.
A malaise over years of faltering living standards and allegations of corruption from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have drained some support, compounded by a tactical voting campaign organised by Mr Navalny’s allies.
Kremlin critics, who alleged large-scale vote rigging, said the election was in any case a sham.
United Russia would have fared much worse in a fair contest, given a pre-election crackdown that outlawed Mr Navalny’s movement, barred his allies from running, and targeted critical media and non-governmental organisations, they said.
Electoral authorities said the overall contest had been fair.
The outcome looks unlikely to change the political landscape, with Putin, who has been in power as president or prime minister since 1999, still dominating ahead of the next presidential election in 2024.
The 68-year-old Putin remains a popular figure with many Russians who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride.
The near complete results showed the Communist Party finishing in second, followed by the nationalist LDPR party and the Fair Russia party with just over 7 per cent each. All three parties usually back the Kremlin on most key issues.
A new party called “New People”, appeared to have squeezed into parliament with just over 5 per cent.
Allies of Mr Navalny, who is serving a jail sentence for parole violations he denies, had encouraged tactical voting against United Russia, a scheme that amounted to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat it in a given electoral district.
In many cases, they had advised people to vote Communist.
Golos, an election watchdog, recorded thousands of violations, including threats against observers and ballot stuffing. Some individuals were caught on camera depositing bundles of votes in urns.
The Central Election Commission said it had recorded 12 cases of ballot stuffing in eight regions and that the results from those polling stations would be voided.
Mr Navalny’s allies were barred from running in the election after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns.
The Kremlin denies a politically driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia denied any role in the registration process for candidates.
“One day we will live in a Russia where it will be possible to vote for good candidates with different political platforms,” Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram messenger before polls closed on Sunday.
With official turnout reported to be about 47 per cent, there were signs of widespread apathy.
“I don’t see the point in voting,” said one Moscow hairdresser who gave her name as Irina. “It’s all been decided for us anyway.”