Russia holds parliamentary elections amid crackdown on Putin critics

Candidates linked to jailed Alexei Navalny barred and groups labelled ‘foreign agents’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny: Google and Apple bowed to Russian pressure to block his “smart voting” app, designed to help people vote tactically.  Photograph: Moscow City Court

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny: Google and Apple bowed to Russian pressure to block his “smart voting” app, designed to help people vote tactically. Photograph: Moscow City Court

 

Russians have voted in parliamentary elections that opposition groups and independent monitors described as deeply flawed due to a crackdown on dissent and allegedly widespread violations at polling stations across the country.

The ruling United Russia party, which is closely allied with President Vladimir Putin, is expected to win the vote ahead of the Communists and the nationalist LDPR party, which critics say merely serve to create a facade of democratic choice while dutifully rubber-stamping the Kremlin’s proposals.

Election candidates linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny were barred from the vote after Russia banned his anti-corruption organisation as “extremist,” and dozens of independent media outlets, journalists and civil society groups have been labelled “foreign agents” for allegedly receiving funds from abroad.

On the eve of the election, Google and Apple bowed to Russian pressure to block Mr Navalny’s “smart voting” app, which was designed to help people vote tactically by identifying opposition candidates with the best chance of beating their rivals from United Russia.

Many opposition figures still benefited from being named as “smart voting” candidates, however, including Moscow State University (MGU) mathematics professor Mikhail Lobanov (38), who ran in the west of the capital against United Russia candidate Yevgeny Popov, a high-profile presenter on fiercely pro-Kremlin state television.

‘Smart voting’

“We’re definitely not voting for United Russia. Power should change hands,” said Marina, a resident of the Ramenki district that is close to the renowned MGU.

“We lived in the Soviet Union and know what it’s like to live under one party and leader for so long,” she said, referring to the 21-year-rule of Mr Putin and the domination of United Russia, which had a two-thirds majority in the last parliament.

“We know they tried to block ‘smart voting’ but a friend kept us informed about who was the best candidate to vote for against United Russia.”

Marina and her husband Ilgvar, who declined to give their surname, said they disliked the Communist Party but would nonetheless vote for Mr Lobanov (37).

He describes himself as a democratic socialist and names Britain’s former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and US politician Bernie Sanders as inspirations. He is not a member of the Communist Party but says the only way to beat United Russia is to work with its main rival.

“The most important things we need [in Russia] are for power to change hands, and reform of the justice system. Ilgvar has had legal problems recently and we never believed the system could be so bad,” said Marina.

Moderisation and services

“And all this we hear about Russia being threatened by other countries – it’s nonsense,” added Ilgvar. “We’ve been abroad a lot and we know it’s not true.”

Many others in Moscow are happy with Mr Putin and United Russia, however, crediting them with providing stability and long-term economic growth that they see reflected in the modernisation of the capital and its services – even though disposable income has fallen in recent years and prices are rising.

“In the 1990s we had more freedom but there were also so many problems. Now things are stricter but they are also more orderly. Lots of things have got much better,” said Natalya, a doctor who has lived in Ramenki all her life.

“My relatives and I have all decided to vote for United Russia today. And we think well of Popov, he comes across well on television.”

Fyodor (40), who works for the Russian postal service, said he saw “no alternative” to the rule of United Russia.

“I moved here from Norilsk [in the Russian Arctic] 20 years ago, and things are so much better now. Of course, there are still problems, but I’ve seen a lot of the country, so I know how well Moscow is doing,” he added.

“What we need is stability and economic development. And we don’t need what you see in some places in Europe: if you go to Amsterdam, you see trash everywhere and gay culture. I’ve got three sons and I don’t want that here.”

Russia’s biggest independent election monitoring group, Golos – which has been declared a “foreign agent” – said it had received many reports of fraud at polling stations, and in some regions accounts of “mass violations” against the rights of election observers, including alleged threats and use of force.

Russia’s central election commission reported relatively few irregularities, however.

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