United Russia party claims victory, retains Duma majority

(Update 2: Adds apparent United Russia Duma majority win)

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 and appears to have retained its majority in the Duma, or lower house of Parliament.

United Russia general secretary Andrei Turchak said at a political rally at the Moscow headquarters of the party that President Vladimir Putin had “obtained a clean and honest victory.”

The official vote count so far, with 27.82 percent of the ballots tabulated, gives United Russia 44.92 percent of the votes and the communists – who emerged as the big winners in this electoral round – 21.97 percent, their best result since 1999 and far above their performance in the 2016 election, when they garnered 13 percent.

The communists could have accumulated 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, which has been in power for 20 years – 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.

Although Putin desperately needed a win for United Russia, recent opinion polls had shown that less than 30 percent of voters would cast their ballots the ruling party.

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 surpassed the 5 percent threshold and thus 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 8.42 percent of the votes), the New People’s party (with 6.42 percent) and the Fair Russia social-democrats (with 7.32 percent).

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