MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s party was set to retain a majority in parliament on the final day of three-day elections scheduled for Sunday, September 19, 2021, with most critics of the Kremlin barred from the ballot.
The vote comes in the wake of an unprecedented crackdown on the opposition this year, with Russian officials jailing Putin’s most famous domestic enemy Alexei Navalny and banning his organizations as “extremist”.
In the lead-up to this weekend’s vote, all of his top aides were arrested or fled the country, with anyone linked to his groups barred from participating in parliamentary and local elections, which took place on Sunday night. It was supposed to close at 8:00.
“These are not necessarily elections. In fact, people have no choice,” Vladimir Zakharov, a 43-year-old businessman in Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg, told AFP.
The elections were also marred by claims of censorship and mass ballot filling.
As voting began on Friday, Apple and Google sparked an uproar amid Russia’s protests after they removed Navalny’s “smart voting” app, which showed supporters which candidate they should be able to oust Kremlin-aligned politicians. should return.
Sources familiar with Google and Apple’s decisions told AFP the move was taken under pressure from Russian authorities, including threats to arrest local employees of the tech giant.
By the end of Friday, the popular Telegram messenger had also removed Navalny’s “smart voting” bot, and on Saturday his team said Google to remove Google Docs with recommended candidates following a request from Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor. was applying pressure.
His team called the documents the last “remaining” tool to support his election strategy and asked voters to take screenshots of them in case they were removed.
‘Putin celebrating victory’
Meanwhile, Russian social media was flooded with reports of ballot stuffing and military personnel patrolling polling stations.
Critics pointed to the elections spread over three days as presenting opportunities for online voting, new limits on independent election observers, and widespread voting fraud.
As of Saturday afternoon, the independent Golos election monitor – which officials branded as a “foreign agent” ahead of the elections – had tracked more than 2,750 reports of voting violations.
Election chief Alla Pamfilova said on Saturday that her commission had received 137 reports of “coercion” of voting.
Putin’s United Russia party was voting at a historic low when the lower house State Duma went to the vote.
In recent polls by state-run pollster VTsIOM, less than 30 percent of Russians plan to vote for the party, a drop of at least 10 percentage points in the weeks before the last parliamentary election in 2016.
While 68-year-old Putin remains popular, United Russia has seen his support decline as living standards plummet after years of economic stagnation.
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.
Apart from United Russia, 13 more parties are running in the election. However, they are widely seen as symbolic opposition to the Kremlin’s dialect.
On Saturday, Navalny’s aide Leonid Volkov said “Putin was celebrating a major victory” when the tech giant “fell under the Kremlin’s blackmail” but was nonetheless turning the Russian leader’s upbeat mood from supporters into “mourning”. called upon to try.
“In our battle between David and Goliath, we certainly still have an opportunity to launch the stone,” he wrote on Telegram.