Pro-Kremlin party wins big majority in parliament

Jim Heintz
Associated Press

Moscow — The biggest party supporting President Vladimir Putin scored an overwhelming victory in national parliament elections, winning three-quarters of the seats, the Central Elections Commission reported Monday.

With 93 percent of the ballots from Sunday’s vote counted, the United Russia party was on track to get 343 of the 450 seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, CEC head Ella Pamfilova said. She said the results were not expected to change significantly in the final count to be announced Friday.

It’s an immense gain, more than 100 seats, for the party that held a majority in the previous parliament, and gives it enough strength to amend the constitution on its own.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin “once again received a massive vote of confidence from the country’s people.”

Turnout was distinctly lower than in the last Duma election in 2011 — less than 48 percent nationwide compared with 60 percent. In Moscow, just 35 percent of those eligible cast ballots.

The three other parties that had been in the previous parliament and that largely cooperated with United Russia will also be in the new Duma, though all in reduced numbers. The Communists will have 42, a sharp drop from 92, the nationalist Liberal Democrats 39 and A Just Russia 23.

Two other seats were won by candidates from small parties and one by an independent. In contrast to the two previous elections, only half the seats in this election were chosen by national party list; the others were contested by single-seat districts.

But the election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe pointedly said that Russians felt widely disengaged from the political process. The mission criticized the news reporting on national TV channels, which are owned or controlled by the state, for focusing overwhelmingly on the incumbent authorities and noted “self-censorship encouraged by the restrictive legal and regulatory framework.”

Marietta Tidei, one of the heads of the observer mission, said that Pamfilova’s leadership of the election commission, which began five months ago, “has given election stakeholders confidence that the elections can be well-run, yet the low-key campaign shows an overall lack of (public) engagement.”

Complaints of violations came from around the country, including ballot-box stuffing and so-called “carousel voting” in which voters are transported to several locations to cast multiple ballots.

Pamfilova said the state Investigative Committee had launched a criminal probe of one voting district, where video from a closed-circuit camera appeared to show a poll worker carefully dropping multiple ballots into the box.

Pamfilova said other alleged violations reports would be investigated and that results from three precincts could be annulled.

Anger over widespread fraud in the 2011 election sparked large protests that unsettled authorities by their size and persistence.