The Kremlin’s power-base party has won a record number of seats in national parliament elections that could pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to glide to a fourth term in the 2018 elections.
With more than 98.3 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia had garnered 54.2 percent of the votes for parties, giving it a constitutional majority in parliament, according to results announced Monday morning.
Sunday’s ballot for the 450-seat State Duma was smooth sailing for the authorities, with no sign of the mass protests following the last vote, though a historic low turnout could become problematic as Russia faces the longest economic crisis of Putin’s rule.
The Kremlin attributed the result to Putin’s popularity.
“It’s obvious that the overwhelming majority of those who voted de facto voiced support for the president,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
“Once more, we see the president gain an impressive vote of confidence from the people.”
The vote comes as Putin’s ratings remain high at around 80 percent, and the authorities appear to be banking on trouble-free presidential elections in two years’ time.
Three other parties — which made up the last parliament and all back the Kremlin — were the only ones to clear the five percent threshold needed to claim a share of the one-half of seats up for grabs.
The Communists will have 42 seats — a sharp drop from 92 — the nationalist Liberal Democrats 39 and A Just Russia 23.
The other half of the deputies are elected on a constituency basis after a change to the election law.
This gives United Russia a total of more than three-quarters of the vote and at least 343 seats in the 450-member parliament, up from 238 previously, and a record for the party.
But it was also the election with the lowest turnout in Russia’s history, suggesting many may have been turned off by a system in which the Kremlin wields near-total power — and which could raise questions over legitimacy.
Only 47.8 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots, compared with 60 percent in 2011, electoral officials said.
Turnout was particularly low in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, where less than 30 percent of voters went to the polls.
Sunday’s election follows a tumultuous few years that have seen Russia seize the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, sparking its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War, and the start of a military campaign in Syria.
Anger over widespread fraud in the 2011 election sparked large protests that unsettled authorities by their size and persistence.
Since then, the Kremlin has cracked down on the right to protest while making a show of stamping out electoral fraud.
Golos independent election monitors said in a statement on Monday that “there were fewer incidents of gross direct falsification than in 2011” but that the vote was “far from what can truly be called free and fair” because of the ruling party’s domination of the campaign.
Complaints of violations came from around the country, including ballot-box stuffing and so-called “carousel voting” in which voters are transported to several locations to cast multiple ballots.
Pamfilova said the national Investigative Committee had launched a criminal probe of one voting district, where video from a closed-circuit camera appeared to show a poll worker carefully dropping multiple ballots into the box.
Pamfilova said other violations reports would be looked into and that results from three precincts could be annulled.
For the first time since Moscow seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, residents there voted for Russia’s parliament, in a poll slammed by Ukraine as illegal.