San Francisco Chronicle
Putin’s party has election lead, but support declines
MOSCOW — Early results in Russia’s parliamentary elections showed a rise in opposition to President Vladimir Putin’s governing party, though it was nevertheless expected to cruise easily to victory.
In partial results broadcast by state television after three days of voting ended Sunday, the party, United Russia, carried 44% of the vote, 10 percentage points less than in the previous election in 2016. In second place, the Communist Party received 22%, compared with 13% in 2016.
Russian elections are not free and fair, and parliament’s role in recent years has mainly been to rubber-stamp the Kremlin’s initiatives while proreduce viding a veneer of democratic legitimacy to Putin’s rule. Over the weekend, videos of ballot stuffing and other apparent instances of fraud circulated widely on social media. But allies of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny had hoped to use the elections to deliver a rebuke to Putin by consolidating the opposition vote.
The weekend’s elections came amid a harsh crackdown on dissent by the Kremlin and murmurings of popular discontent. Apparently fearing a rebuke at the ballot box, authorities barred just about all well-known opposition figures from running for parliament, while forcing many dissidents into exile.
The multi-day nature of the elections — measures officially put in place to the spread of the coronavirus — increased the likelihood of fraud by making the process harder to monitor, election observers and Kremlin critics said. And given the system by which the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Duma, are apportioned, United Russia could still maintain its two-thirds majority in the chamber despite getting less than half of the votes.
The opposition’s uphill battle was complicated by decisions by Google and Apple to comply with Russian government demands to block access to Navalny-related content that was supposed to coordinate the protest vote.
Gennadi Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party in Russia, said there had been a “huge amount” of violations in the elections and warned of demonstrations in the coming days — a notable statement because the Communists are typically loyal to Putin on key issues.