The election-eve crackdown has not been counter-productive and the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has been afforded another innings at the crease despite a drop in support. United Russia claimed victory a few hours before the national elections closed on Sunday evening.
Putin’s most vocal critics were barred from contesting, and candidates who were allowed to stand were heavily vetted. There have been numerous allegations of ballot stuffing and forced voting. But Russia’s Electoral Commission has rejected claims of widespread irregularities. The initial results show that despite Mr Putin’s party easily retaining its majority in Parliament, it did lose some ground. In 2016, the party won 54 per cent of the vote.
The Communists, who broadly support Putin’s initiatives in Parliament, claimed that their support has grown by 8 per cent. But their leader, Gennady Zyuganov, has alleged widespread violations, including ballot-stuffing. Concerns over living standards and allegations of corruption from the jailed Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny, have eroded the support that Putin’s party enjoyed. However, the President remains popular with many Russians, who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride.
Many opposition politicians and activists were barred from the ballot, notably, supporters of the jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. The coronavirus pandemic was the official reason for conducting the election over three days. But critics say the extended poll lacks transparency and is open to abuse.
Reports of voting irregularities have been coming in from across Russia. The head of the Election Commission said, however, that the criticism was part of “a planned, deliberate campaign, well financed from abroad. It’s a sign of things to come for this is how Moscow will react to any international criticism, by pointing a finger at the West and claiming it’s all part of a foreign conspiracy to discredit Russia. Putin remains in the saddle for some time yet.
For the first time since 1993, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were not present due to limitations imposed by Russian authorities. On Sunday evening, the independent vote monitoring group Golos ~ which the Russian authorities have branded “a foreign agent” ~ said it had tracked more than 4,500 reports of voting violations. Russia’s interior ministry said that it had not registered any “significant violations”, however.
The Kremlin spokesman rejected claims that it was an indication of people being put under pressure to vote. But Golos said it had received “numerous messages” from people who said they were being forced by their employers to vote, as well as allegations of electoral fraud. In parts of east Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, residents with Russian citizenship were allowed to vote, with some crossing the border to visit Russian polling stations.
There has also been anger after a Smart Voting app devised by Navalny was removed from Apple and Google stores on the day Russians started voting. Vladimir Putin may have won, but the election was far from free and fair. In a former Communist nation, democracy has stumbled.