Kremlin-aligned United Russia party looks set to retain majority

Candidates linked to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny were barred from the election

Members of a local electoral commission  at a Moscow polling station after the last day of the three-day parliamentary election, on Sunday. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Members of a local electoral commission at a Moscow polling station after the last day of the three-day parliamentary election, on Sunday. Photograph: Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

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Russia’s Kremlin-aligned ruling party is set to retain its dominant hold on the country’s parliament after elections that opposition groups and independent monitors said were deeply flawed by voting violations and a crackdown on dissent.

With one-fifth of votes counted, United Russia had 43.2 per cent, ahead of the Communists on 22.9 per cent and the nationalist LDPR on 8.7 per cent. The two opposition parties back nearly all proposals from President Vladimir Putin, but analysts said the Communists might offer more resistance to the Kremlin if their predicted gains in parliament are confirmed.

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

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

‘Smart voting’

Opposition figures still benefited from being “smart voting” candidates, however, including Moscow State University (MGU) maths professor Mikhail Lobanov, who ran on the Communist ticket in the capital against United Russia candidate Yevgeny Popov, a fiercely pro-Kremlin presenter on state television.

“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 ...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,” she added.

Marina and her husband, Ilgvar, who declined to give their surnames, 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.

“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.”

‘No alternative’

Fyodor (40), who works for the Russian post 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.”

Opposition figures and independent election monitors said they had received many reports of voting fraud and attempts to hinder the work of election observers, and warned that the authorities could use the results of non-transparent electronic voting to “correct” unfavourable results on a huge scale.

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