September 19, 2021
Putin’s United Russia party was polling at historic lows ahead of the election
Russian social media was inundated with reports of ballot stuffing and military servicemen patrolling polling stations. PHOTO: AP
President Vladimir Putin’s party was set to retain a majority in parliament as Russia Sunday concluded a three-day election in which most Kremlin critics were barred from running.
The vote comes in the wake of an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition this year, with Russian authorities jailing Putin’s best-known domestic foe Alexei Navalny and banning his organisations as “extremist”.
“These essentially aren’t elections. People in effect have no choice,” 43-year-old businessman Vladimir Zakharov told AFP in Russia’s second city Saint Petersburg.
As voting kicked off Friday, Apple and Google caused an uproar among Russia’s opposition after they removed Navalny’s “Smart Voting” app, which showed supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians.
By late Friday, the popular Telegram messenger had also removed Navalny’s “Smart Voting” bot, and by Sunday Google Docs and YouTube videos containing the lists of the recommended candidates had also been blocked.
In a final pitch to voters from behind bars on Sunday, Navalny wrote on Instagram: “Today is a day when your voice truly matters.”
– ‘Putin celebrating victory’ –
Critics also pointed to online voting, new limits on independent election observers and the polls being spread over three days as presenting opportunities for mass voting fraud.
“Even if nothing depends on us, we must do at least something,” he told AFP.
Elections chief Ella Pamfilova said her commission had received 137 reports of voting “coercion”.
Recent surveys by state-run pollster VTsIOM showed fewer than 30 percent of Russians planning to vote for the party, down at least 10 percentage points in the weeks ahead of the last parliamentary election in 2016.
But the ruling party is widely expected to retain its two-thirds majority in the lower house, allowing it to push through legislative changes without resistance.
On Saturday, Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said “Putin was celebrating a huge victory” after tech giants “caved in to the Kremlin’s blackmail” but still called on supporters to vote.