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Putin's party dominates elections with 45% of the vote

The election follows a tumultuous few years that have seen Russia seize the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and start a military operation in Syria.

Putin
Putin
Image: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Press Association Images

Updated at 8pm

RUSSIA’S RULING PARTY looked set to dominate a new parliament made up of Kremlin loyalists after a state exit poll gave it almost 45% in nationwide elections.

Russian state pollster VTsIOM put President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia on 44.5%, ahead of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party on 15.3%, the Communists on 14.9% and A Just Russia on 8.1%.

“We can confidently say that United Russia has won,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on state television, adding that the party would have an “absolute majority” in the new legislature.

The four leading parties — which made up the last parliament and all back the Kremlin — were the only ones that cleared the 5% bar to claim half the seats up for grabs.

After a change to the election law the other half of the deputies in the 450-seat legislature are being elected on a constituency basis, with the pro-Kremlin parties also expected to dominate.

As of 6.15pm Irish time, United Russia MPs had won in 66 of 76 constituencies, the central election commission said.

Opposition party Yabloko received 3.5% of the vote, missing the threshold required to enter parliament.

The Parnas opposition party, headed by former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, got 1.2% of the vote.

The turnout of the vote three hours before polls closed stood at just under 40%, significantly down from the last parliamentary elections in 2011.

Tumultuous years

The nationwide election follows a tumultuous few years that have seen the country seize the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, plunge into its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War and start a military operation in Syria.

However, the Kremlin exerts near-total control and, after a campaign dubbed the most boring in recent memory, a trouble-free victory for ruling party United Russia will help smooth the way for Putin to claim a fourth term as president in 2018.

“I knew who to vote for. Surely you must be aware,” Putin quipped to journalists after casting his vote in Moscow, Russian agencies reported.

Looming large is the spectre of mass protests over vote rigging that followed the last legislative polls five years ago and grew into the biggest challenge to Putin since he took charge in 2000.

This time round the authorities have made a show of cleaning up the vote by replacing the former scandal-tainted election chief and allowing more genuine opposition candidates to take part.

But critics insist the Kremlin’s media dominance means the vote can never be fair and – with the 450-member State Duma viewed as a rubber-stamp body that slavishly toes the Kremlin’s line – apathy is widespread.

“The elections are absolutely predictable,” Dmitry Pribytkov (47) said after voting in the second city of Saint Petersburg.

“But this is my country and I have to express my opinion.”

‘Cruise voting’ 

Despite the authorities pledging to crack down on vote-rigging, observers and opposition candidates from around the country posted claims of possible violations online, including “cruise-voting” – where people are bussed to vote at multiple polling stations – and ballot stuffing.

Electoral commission head Ella Pamfilova dismissed claims of widespread fraud, but said authorities were probing allegations in the Siberian Altai region and threatened to annul the vote there.

Crimea

For the first time since Moscow seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, residents there voted for Russia’s parliament. Ukraine has slammed the poll as illegal.

While leaders from the region’s Crimean Tatar minority – which largely opposed Moscow’s takeover – have said they are boycotting the vote, others said they were proud to take part.

“I went to vote, and all my relatives and neighbours are going,” Valentina, a pensioner, said. “We are for Russia.”

Voters in some areas of the vast country are also electing regional leaders.

In the North Caucasus region of Chechnya, strongman Ramzan Kadyrov performed a traditional dance before casting his ballot as he faces the first electoral test of his iron-fisted rule.

Ahead of the vote, rights groups said all criticism of Kremlin stalwart Kadyrov had been ruthlessly crushed.

© AFP 2016

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