Pro-Putin party heads for Russian poll win after Navalny clampdown
Russians voted on Sunday in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary polls that the ruling party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from running.
The expected win by the ruling United Russia party will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs the 68-year-old leader faces a ratings slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot, the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party, which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three quarters of the State Duma's 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.
”If United Russia manages (to win), our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years,” ran a message to supporters on Navalny's blog this week.
Navalny's allies were barred from running after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns.
A Communist strawberry tycoon says he was unfairly barred, while a liberal opposition politician in St Petersburg says two identically-named“spoiler” candidates are running against him to confuse his voters.
The Kremlin denies a politically-driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia deny any role in the registration process for candidates.
Navalny's camp is promoting a tactical voting ploy against the ruling party that amounts to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat United Russia in a given electoral district. Authorities have attempted to block the initiative online.
”One day we will live in a Russia where it will be possible to vote for good candidates with different political platforms,” Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram messenger.
”And Navalny's party will vye for a seat in parliament in fair and competitive elections. But for now, 'smart voting' is voting for Navalny.”
Since voting began on Friday, Google, Apple and Telegram messenger have limited some access to the tactical voting campaign, leading activists to accuse them of caving to pressure from the government. Apple and Google have not responded to the allegation.
The Central Election Commission reported voter turnout at 35.7% as of 10:00 am Moscow time (0700 GMT) on Sunday.
The election runs until 1800 GMT on Sunday when polling stations close in the European exclave of Kaliningrad. It is the last national vote before the 2024 presidential election. Putin, who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will run.
In Moscow, the tactical voting campaign spearheaded by Navalny Ä who is serving two-and-a-half years in prison for alleged parole violations Ä has recommended his supporters vote for politicians like the Communist Party's Mikhail Lobanov.
”People see the glaring inequalities, they feel the effects of economic policy and the swell of repression and respond with dissatisfaction accordingly,” Lobanov said.
One Moscow pensioner who gave his name only as Anatoly said he voted United Russia because he was proud of Russia's muscular foreign policy and Putin's efforts to restore what he sees as Russia's rightful great power status.
”Countries like the United States and Britain more or less respect us now like they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70sâ€¦ The Anglo-Saxons only understand the language of force,” he said.
Other voters voiced anger at United Russia at a polling station in the capital of more than 12.5 million where United Russia has fared worse in recent years than in other regions.
”I'm always against United Russia,” said Roman Malakhov, who voted Communist.“They haven't done anything good.”