Kremlin hails allies’ landslide election win as Putin critics cry foul

Opposition candidates claim victories stolen by Russia’s opaque online voting system

 

The Kremlin has praised parliamentary elections that handed a huge victory to its allies in the ruling United Russia party, as members of the country’s embattled opposition called for protests against a vote they decried as blatantly rigged.

With almost all votes counted from Sunday’s ballot, the central election commission said United Russia had 49.8 per cent of votes, far ahead of the Communist Party on 18.9 per cent and the nationalist LDPR on 7.5 per cent.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that for Russian president Vladimir Putin “the main thing was and remains the competitiveness, openness and honesty of the elections. In this sense, of course, we rate the electoral process very, very positively”.

Early results from eastern Russia and Siberia had fuelled Communist hopes that protest votes would help the party take about a quarter of ballots, but United Russia’s lead grew through the night until it was confident of retaining its two-thirds “supermajority” of seats in the lower house of parliament.

Several opposition candidates seemed poised to beat pro-Kremlin figures in Moscow until – following a delay of many hours – results from online voting handed victory to allies of Mr Putin in every district of the capital.

Critics accused the authorities of using Russia’s opaque online voting system to hand victory to pro-Kremlin candidates, following a crackdown on dissent in which opposition leader Alexei Navalny was jailed, his allies banned from running in the election and independent media and NGOs blacklisted.

In the Ramenki district of the capital, Moscow State University professor Mikhail Lobanov saw an overnight lead of some 11,000 paper ballots wiped out by a swing of 20,000 online votes to United Russia candidate and state television presenter Yevgeny Popov.

“I know such a result is impossible,” said Mr Lobanov, who ran on the Communist Party ticket but describes himself as a “democratic socialist”.

“So I call on all candidates who don’t agree with the results of electronic voting to meet today to discuss future actions... Hundreds of thousands of people voted for us. Yes, it was a protest vote, but I consider that now we... are responsible for defending these votes together with the voters,” he added.

Valery Rashkin, another popular Communist candidate who claims to have been robbed of a seat by fraudulent electronic voting, joined Mr Lobanov in calling people to come to Pushkin Square in central Moscow on Monday evening.

The Moscow mayor’s office cited Covid-19 concerns when quickly banning the rally, and a large contingent of police moved into the area around Pushkin Square hours before the planned gathering.

Mr Navalny encouraged people to vote tactically by backing only the candidates with the best chance of beating their United Russia rivals, and his team distributed those recommendations via a “smart voting” app that Apple and Google blocked on Friday in response to Russian pressure.

“The results of unverifiable, fraudulent electronic voting in Moscow should be completely annulled, and in Saint Petersburg the votes should be completely recounted,” said Leonid Volkov, a close aide to Mr Navalny.

“We support any peaceful protest action that will help achieve this.”