Putin-backed party wins more-than-expected majority as opponent cries mass fraud

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Opponents accused Russian authorities of mass fraud on Monday after the ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, won a bigger than expected parliamentary majority despite unease over living standards.

With 99.9% of ballots counted, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won nearly 50% of the vote, with its nearest rival, the Communist Party, taking just under 19%.

The scale of the victory means United Russia will have more than two-thirds of deputies in the 450-seat State Duma lower house of parliament. This will enable it to continue to push through laws without having to rely on other parties.

United Russia, a party that Putin helped found, had always been expected to win. Its most vociferous critics, allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, were prevented from taking part in the election after a court branded them extremists in June.

Pre-vote surveys had suggested that discontent over years of faltering living standards and corruption allegations would dent United Russia’s support. In the event, near final official results showed it securing around only 4% less than the last time a similar election was held in 2016.

The U.S. State Department said the election conditions had not been conducive to free and fair proceedings, Britain’s foreign ministry called the vote a setback for democratic freedom, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc noted reports of serious violations.

Up to 200 Communist protesters who felt cheated gathered for a demonstration in Moscow on Monday evening as police looked on.

Candidates opposed to United Russia in the capital had been ahead in more than half of 15 electoral districts, but all lost after electronic voters were added in.

“It’s a disgrace and a real crime!” Communist candidate Valery Rashkin told the crowd, saying his party would keep protesting until what he called the falsified electronic Moscow results were overturned. Rashkin said the protesters would be back on Saturday.

Separately, Navalny’s allies condemned the results.

“With such a colossal number of violations, the results of the State Duma elections cannot be recognised as clean, honest or legitimate,” said Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny aide.

Sobol had hoped to run for parliament herself but Navalny’s allies were barred from taking part after the extremism designation. Critical media and non-governmental organisations were also targeted by the authorities in the election run-up. [

Navalny’s allies had tried to drain support from United Russia with an online tactical voting campaign which the authorities had tried to block.

Electoral authorities said they had voided any results at voting stations where there had been obvious irregularities and that the overall contest had been fair.

According to Ella Pamfilova, the head of the election commission, the vote was exceptionally clean and transparent. She told Putin she would look into any complaints before declaring final results on Friday.

Putin gave a short statement, thanking voters after the Kremlin had hailed the result, saying United Russia had confirmed its role as the leading party. The Kremlin said the election had been competitive, open and honest.

REUTERS