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19 Sep, 2016 13:03

Russian elections: Ruling United Russia stays at helm with 54.3%, rivals decry low turnout

Official results in Russia's parliamentary, regional and municipal elections show the ruling United Russia party heads the polls with 54.3 percent after 93 percent of votes counted. Other parties have slammed the record-low turnout as “shameful” and the results as “untrustworthy.”

According to the Russian Central Election Committee (CEC), United Russia party is dominating the polls, followed by the Russian Communist Party with 13.5 percent, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) with 13.3 percent, and Fair Russia coming in fourth with 6.2 percent. 

LDPR, the Communist Party and Fair Russia have also made it into  parliament, having passed the required 5 percent threshold.

United Russia will now have 343 seats in the 450-member lower house. The Communist Party will have 42 seats, LDPR will have 39, and Fair Russia just 23.

The other 10 non-parliamentary parties that took part in the elections did not receive enough votes to make it into parliament as they were unable to pass the 5 percent barrier. Some of their candidates, however, could still enter parliament as a result of constituency races. 

Sunday’s voter turnout in Moscow and St. Petersburg was a record-low in comparison to previous elections. The Russian capital saw a 20 percent turnout, while St. Petersburg saw 16.1 percent. The overall turnout stood at 47.8 percent of Russia's 111.6 million eligible voters, Interfax reported, citing CEC data.

Commenting at the end of voting day, Russian President Vladimir Putin, founder of United Russia, said that while turnout was “not the highest,” it was still high given the “situation in Russia.

The situation in Russia is complicated. People feel this and want the stability in politics and society that we [United Russia] are talking about. In these complicated circumstances, people want the situation inside the country in the political sphere and the parliament to be stable.

“We know that people struggle, there are many problems and unresolved questions. Still, the result is as you see […] It’s hard, it’s complicated, but the people still voted for United Russia,” the president said.

Opposition disgruntled

Sergey Mironov, leader of Fair Russia, claimed the low turnout was Russians' way of showing they don’t believe in the election transparency.

I’m afraid many voters chose not to take part in the election, unable to trust the fair counting of the votes,” he said, as cited by Interfax.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, whose party has been neck-and-neck with LDPR, also slammed the results, saying that his hopes that “this campaign would be fairer, more responsible and dignified given the crisis within the country” have floundered.

Zyuganov was outraged that LDPR could potentially beat his party in the vote, and accused United Russia of siding with LDPR to secure an absolute majority.

This is not just deception, it’s a dangerous aberration, which will inevitably end up undermining stability,” Zyuganov said, as cited by Moskovskiy Komsomolets news outlet.

Before the final results were out, LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said: “It’s high time [LDPR] became the second ruling party in the country, and communists can go to hell,” clearly hopeful his party will come in second. He also expressed outrage at the low turnout, saying that “57 million people ditching the vote is a shame,” as cited by TASS.

Mikhail Kasyanov, leader of the Political Party of People’s Freedom (PARNAS), said that “the citizens do not trust the elections, which is the result of the policy of the [ruling party], its fault.

The founder of the “democratic alternative” to the authorities, Yabloko’s  Grigory Yavlinsky, said the elections have shown Russia’s political system “is at a dead end” and needs to be completely overhauled, adding that his party and he personally will be taking part in the next “what is going to be called presidential elections.”

'Opposition seen as a poor choice' 

RT spoke to Bryan MacDonald, Russia-based political author and broadcaster, who says the elections show Russians see no better option than the ruling party.

It seems that a lot of people don’t want United Russia but they don’t want the opposition either. Pro-Western opposition has polled less than 3 percent,” he said, adding that despite the elections being considered fair even by liberal media, the West will keep snubbing this with headlines such as ‘Kremlin-backed party gets the results it wants.'

The reason the Western media aren’t mentioning it is because it would be a wrong counter to their narrative efforts, which is that all Russian elections are crooked and they’re never going to be clean.

“They’re only interested in bad news about Russia – I mean when was the last time you saw a good news story about Russia in a European newspaper? […] I also wonder that if Russia invented a cure for cancer in the morning, if UK and American media would make it look like a bad thing,” MacDonald told RT.

Elections are legitimate - CEC, observers

Meanwhile, despite their dissatisfaction, all of the parties’ leaders have recognized Sunday’s elections as legitimate. Russian Central Election Commission (CEC) chair Ella Pamfilova confirmed this, saying that the number of violations was significantly lower this year than in previous elections and could not cast doubt on the legitimacy of the voting process. She did however note that despite the president's calls for fair elections, members of election commissions in many regions experienced bureaucratic pressure.

Reports of some violations at polling stations have been posted on Russian Twitter accounts. The deputy head of the Russian Central Elections Committee said that the elections watchdog would look into all the reports, adding at the same time that most of them either have no basis in reality, or are “exaggerated.”

In one such instance, a video posted on YouTube purports to show a violation at one of the polling stations in the central Russian city of Rostov. A woman can be seen putting a number of ballots into the ballot box while two other women hide her from the observers. The local electoral commission and the Investigative Committee said they are looking into the incident.

Complaints about irregularities were filed with the regional election commissions in several regions, the majority regarding alleged attempts to bribe voters. The commission said the number of complaints this year surged compared to 2011, probably due to the fact that there are more elections being held in the regions, but stressed all complaints will be dealt with promptly.

The CEC chair said some 264,000 observers were present at the polling stations throughout the country, including international observers, who in general say that the voting went smoothly.

I’ve been to five polling stations and everything was calm there. People came to vote in the same way as they do in other European countries – it’s good news for Russia,” international observer Javier Hurtado Mira told RT.

All in all I can say is that the vote proceeded very smoothly […] Democracy in Russia has evolved and that’s good news for everybody,” he added.

In Moscow alone more than 3,500 polling stations were under online surveillance.

We went to different polling stations and of course we were at the central election commission and we didn’t see any kind of violations. There may have been some technical violations that had to do with maybe handicapped access, but there hasn’t been anything that we’ve seen or heard of that would have any effect on the election,” Kline Preston, a US observer at the elections, told RT.

People’s choice

Sunday’s elections did not pass without a smile. Social media has been filled with a choice selection of humorous episodes, such as regional leaders dancing outside a polling station, pictures of pets ‘working’ as observers, voters’ unexpected choice of outfits, and alternative candidates that were added to the ballot papers by fans of PokemonGO and Game of Thrones.

A resident of the Siberian city of Omsk came to a polling station dressed as the comic and movie superhero Iron Man.

Voters who were not happy with the choice of candidates suggested Game of Thrones’ wily dwarf Tyrion Lannister or Pikachu the Pokemon to lead the country instead.

Since humans obviously can’t be trusted, one polling station apparently chose cats as observers, as this picture shows.

While Russia's consulate service in Munich, Germany, reported no violations as they had ”good guards.”