Putin party on course for easy poll win

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Worldwide -

RUS­SIA’S rul­ing United Rus­sia party cruised to an easy vic­tory in par­lia­men­tary polls but a low turnout sug­gested a soft­en­ing of en­thu­si­asm for the rul­ing elite 18 months be­fore the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin’s party had 54.2 per­cent of the vote af­ter 90 per­cent of bal­lots were counted yes­ter­day, data from the elec­tion com­mis­sion showed.

The Com­mu­nist party was in sec­ond place with 13.5 per­cent of the vote, fol­lowed by the Lib­eral Democrats party on 13.3 per­cent and the Just Rus­sia party on 6.2 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to an in­com­plete vote count.

The elec­tion for the 450-seat State Duma went smoothly for a govern­ment des­per­ate to avoid a re­peat of mass protests last time round and eager to in­crease their dom­i­nance as the coun­try faces the long­est eco­nomic cri­sis of Putin’s rule.

“We can an­nounce al­ready with cer­tainty that the party se­cured a good re­sult, that it won,” Putin said af­ter the vote. “The sit­u­a­tion is tough and dif­fi­cult but the peo­ple still voted for United Rus­sia,” he said on state tele­vi­sion.

Putin’s aides are likely to use the re­sult as a spring­board for his cam­paign for re-elec­tion in 2018, though he has not yet con­firmed that he will seek an­other term.

Al­lud­ing to the splut­ter­ing econ­omy, which is fore­cast to shrink this year by at least 0.3 per­cent, Putin said: “We know that life is hard for peo­ple, there are lots of prob­lems, lots of un­re­solved prob­lems. Nev­er­the­less, we have this re­sult.”

Re­sults in­di­cated that lib­eral op­po­si­tion groups were un­likely to make it into par­lia­ment, with nei­ther the Yabloko party, nor the Par­nas party, headed by for­mer prime min­is­ter Mikhail Kasyanov, ap­pear­ing to have se­cured enough votes to win a seat. Sun­day’s elec­tion fol­lows a tu­mul­tuous few years that have seen Rus­sia seize the Crimea penin­sula from Ukraine, plunge into its worst stand­off with the West since the Cold War and start a mil­i­tary cam­paign in Syria.

But the Krem­lin ex­erts al­most com­plete con­trol over the me­dia and pub­lic dis­course, and this year’s elec­tion cam­paign was dubbed the dullest in re­cent mem­ory.

Loom­ing large was the spec­tre of mass protests over vo­terig­ging that fol­lowed the last leg­isla­tive polls five years ago and grew into the big­gest chal­lenge to Putin since he took charge in 2000. Since then the govern­ment has cracked down on the right to protest while pledg­ing to stamp out elec­toral ma­nip­u­la­tion.

A for­mer scan­dal-tainted elec­tion chief was re­moved in favour of a hu­man rights ad­vo­cate who al­lowed more gen­uine op­po­si­tion can­di­dates to take part.

De­spite the au­thor­i­ties pledg­ing to crack down on vo­terig­ging, ob­servers around the coun­try made claims of vi­o­la­tions in­clud­ing “cruise-vot­ing”, where peo­ple are bussed to vote at mul­ti­ple polling sta­tions, and bal­lot stuff­ing.

Elec­toral Com­mis­sion chief Ella Pam­filova ad­mit­ted that there had been prob­lems in cer­tain re­gions but of­fi­cials said the num­ber of vi­o­la­tions was way down on the last vote. — Al Jazeera

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