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A new red wave? Russian elections show massive gains for country's Communists as party leader celebrates best result since 1990s

A new red wave? Russian elections show massive gains for country's Communists as party leader celebrates best result since 1990s
Almost 30 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s Communist Party is making waves once again. According to preliminary results of the country’s 2021 election, the group has significantly boosted its popularity.

Over three days of voting, Russia went to the polls to choose from 14 groupings and other independent candidates vying for 450 seats in the country’s parliament. Half of the MPs are selected by regional first-past-the-post elections, while the other half of the Duma is allocated based on proportional representation of all parties that receive more than 5% of the votes.

The election has been marred by claims of voter fraud and ballot stuffing, with some opposition figures claiming that it was rigged in favor of the ruling United Russia party, which stands to retain a large majority in parliament. United Russia supports President Vladimir Putin.

With 97% of the votes counted, the share of the vote received by the Communist Party  of the Russian Federation (KPRF) is at 19.07%, bettering its 2016 result by 6%, and a sign that the Communists have grown their support base.

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The Communists’ popularity has seen a boost following the falling popularity of United Russia. In recent times, the party’s flagship proposal has been to cancel the unpopular pension reform, which led to a rise in the retirement age. The KPRF and some other left-wing oppositional political forces led protests against the changes. Meanwhile, the Communists also opposed last year's controversial constitutional amendments, which theoretically can allow Putin to run for two more presidential terms.

Speaking on Sunday evening, as the polls were coming to an end, party leader Gennady Zyuganov declared that it “hasn’t had such support since 1996,” when he himself received 40% of the vote and came second in the presidential election, behind Boris Yeltsin.

In fact, it now appears that, although the Communists will do well, they will fall short of their 1999 result, when the party had a plurality in parliament, receiving 24.29% of the vote – more than any other faction.

However, the most impressive figures for the KPRF come at a regional level, where the party has managed to completely overtake the ruling United Russia in at least two areas.

In Yakutia, in Russia’s Far East, the Communists won 35.15% of the vote, pipping the party of power into second place with 33.22%. This is a significant boost in its popularity in the region, as the KPRF only came in third at the last elections in 2016.

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The party also won the Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a region in the north of the country. Last year, it was the only region in the country to vote against Putin’s constitutional reforms. The Communists gained 31.98% of the vote.

The Communists also have the lead in the traditionally opposition-leaning Khabarovsk Region, which had previously skewed far-right, as well as the Mari El Republic and Ulyanovsk Region, the birthplace of revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin.

Due to the  first-past-the-post system, however, the faction has won less than 10% of the 225 available constituency seats, with United Russia taking the vast majority.

According to Zyuganov, the new results show that the party is popular in “deep Russia,” noting particularly good showings in Siberia and the Far East.

“We actually have equal results [with United Russia] from Sakhalin to Tomsk, which gives grounds to say that the wind of freedom, the wind of the country's revival and justice is blowing today from the east,” Zyuganov said.

The results haven’t been without controversy, however. There have been widespread accusations of fraud and misconduct. Throughout the three days of voting, many videos shared online appeared to show voters and officials stuffing ballot boxes with multiple voting slips. In Moscow, some opposition figures accused officials of delaying the release of online voting results to give them an opportunity to manipulate the results.

Many of the Communist party’s candidates were also selected as preferred options by jailed opposition figure Alexey Navalny’s team and its controversial ‘Smart Voting’ system.

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