2021-09-20 16:03:13 In Russia Election Results, Online Votes Sweep Putin Opponents Aside

In Russia Election Results, Online Votes Sweep Putin Opponents Aside

MOSCOW, Russia — Russia’s ruling party retained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament and claimed a sweeping victory in opposition-minded Moscow on Monday, in a stark display of Kremlin power as authorities announced the results of a nationwide parliamentary election that opposition leaders denounced as blatantly rigged.

Partially released results after the polls closed on Sunday evening showed significant gains for opposition parties and potential victories for several candidates backed by imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. However, by the time Russia’s Central Election Commission announced a nearly complete count on Monday, those gains had largely vanished, prompting outrage from Kremlin critics, claims of widespread fraud, and scattered calls for protests.

Russian elections are not free and fair, and the country’s most visible opposition figures were barred from voting, imprisoned, or exiled in the months leading up to the three-day vote, which ended on Sunday. However, Mr. Navalny’s supporters hoped that a coordinated protest vote in the election would serve as a rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin.

On Monday, the Russian capital was the epicenter of the opposition’s rage, a hotbed of anti-Kremlin sentiment where the government had urged voters to vote online. Before the results of online voting were tabulated, with a delay, on Monday, challengers to the ruling party, United Russia, led in several electoral districts. Soon after, the pro-Kremlin candidate was declared the winner in each of those districts by the election commission.

As a result, the ruling United Russia party swept to a dominant victory and maintained its two-thirds “supermajority” in the lower house of Parliament, the Duma, despite receiving approval ratings of less than 30% in recent polls conducted by state-run research organizations. The party received 50% of the vote, with a turnout of 52%, and won 198 of the 225 seats allocated in direct, single-district elections.

“We’ve never had a voting process that we didn’t know anything about,” Roman Udot, co-founder of Golos, an independent election monitoring organization, said of Moscow’s online voting system. “There’s a big, big skeleton in the closet here.”

According to the Interfax news agency, a Moscow city government official explained the delay in the tabulation of online votes by citing a “decoding” process that took “considerably longer than we had expected.”

In a social media message from prison, Mr. Navalny claimed that the delay in releasing online voting results allowed “the deft little hands” of United Russia officials to “fake the results to the exact opposite.” The Communist Party, which finished second nationwide and in several contested district-level races in the capital, said it would not recognize the results of the online voting in Moscow.

However, it was unclear what, if anything, critics of the outcome could do to address the situation. The Kremlin controls the judiciary, and prominent opposition figures are exiled or imprisoned. Protests on the streets are increasingly being punished by incarceration.

Overall, the outcome demonstrated Mr. Putin’s tightening grip on political life — and may have served as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election in 2024, in which Mr. Putin may seek a fifth term.

“The main thing for the president was and continues to be the competitiveness, openness, and honesty of the elections,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday. “Of course, we have a very positive assessment of the electoral process.”

For weeks, Kremlin critics had warned that online voting could open up new avenues for fraud because the tabulation process was even less transparent than paper ballot counting.

According to state news agencies, the Communists called for protests on Monday, but Moscow authorities quickly denied them a permit due to pandemic-related restrictions. Mr. Navalny’s top aide, Leonid Volkov, who has been coordinating opposition votes from exile, stopped short of urging people to take to the streets, but said he and his colleagues would support “any peaceful protest actions” that could help overturn the results.

On Monday, television images showed police trucks massing in central Moscow’s Pushkin Square, but it was unclear whether any protests would take place.

“The Kremlin took this step because it was confident it could get away with it,” Mr. Volkov said in a Telegram post. “Putin decided he didn’t have to be afraid of the street. We’ll find out whether he’s right or not.”

Reporting was contributed by Oleg Matsnev.

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In Russia Election Results, Online Votes Sweep Putin Opponents Aside