United Russia party claims victory, may have retained Duma majority

(Update 1: Adds preliminary official vote tally, details, rewrites)

Moscow, Sep 19 (EFE).- Polling places in the European portion of Russia closed on Sunday after three days of voting in legislative elections in which the governing United Russia party claimed victory but retaining its constitutional majority appears to be in doubt.

The official vote count so far, with 21 percent of the ballots tabulated, gives Russia United 43.31 percent of the votes and the communists 23 percent.

The communists could have garnered protest votes above and beyond those of its actual supporters because of the near-total absence of extra-parliamentary opposition forces in the election.

The polling stations closed in the European portion of Russia at 1700 GMT, nine hours after the first precincts closed in Russia’s Far East.

In the elections for the Russian Duma – or lower chamber of Parliament – 450 seats were up for grabs, with 330 being required for a majority, and voting was conducted over three days due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 110 million Russian citizens were called to the polls, of whom 2.6 million had signed up to vote electronically, a method that had been made available in Moscow and six regions around the country.

Participation in the three-day spate of voting for the elections stood at 45.15 percent at 1500 GMT, according to Russian election authorities, slightly below the 47.88 percent turnout in the 2016 legislative vote.

More than 5,800 candidates from 14 political parties, including 10 independent candidates, were competing in these elections.

In addition to Duma representatives, voters are selecting 12 heads of federal entities and members of 39 regional parliaments.

The Kremlin party – United Russia – was seeking to renew its parliamentary majority in the election. Five years ago, the party won 54.2 percent of the vote and 334 seats in the Duma, and this time around it also wants to surpass the 330-seat majority threshold.

Recent opinion polls showed that less than 30 percent of voters would cast their ballots the ruling party.

However, according to an exit poll conducted by INSOMAR at the close of the precincts, United Russia had won 45.2 percent of the votes, thus apparently preserving its parliamentary majority, while the Communist Party received 21 percent, with these results obtained in an election where the main opposition leaders were unable to participate.

With the exception of the liberal Yabloko party, the opposition headed by Alexei Navalny, who is serving a two-and-a-half-year prison sentence, is not participating in the election.

Most of the radical opposition candidates were unable to register to compete in the elections due to assorted obstacles ranging from accusations of extremism to possession of securities and/or other assets abroad. Others have left Russia due to pressure from the authorities.

Just 250 foreign observers, most of them from former Soviet republics, monitored the elections.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe office for democratic institutions and human rights refused to supervise the elections, given the Kremlin’s decision to reduce the number of observers from 500 to 260.

Half of the Duma seats are allocated via party-list voting and half through single-member plurality voting, where United Russia candidates enjoy a decisive advantage.

According to the official figures so far, five parties will comprise the lower house, compared with the four that currently hold seats there: United Russia and the communists, the ultranationalist Democratic Liberal Party of Vladimir Zhirinovky (with 9.3 percent of the votes), the New People’s party (with 7.59 percent) and the Fair Russia social-democrats (with 6.86 percent).

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