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OSCE Gives Mixed Review Of Russian Ruling Party's Win

  • RFE/RL

Election observers say the vote that strengthened the ruling United Russia party’s grip on parliament was marred by an array of shortcomings but was more transparently administered than previous elections.

Factors clouding the September 18 elections included legal restrictions, state control of the media, limitations on civil society, and widespread procedural irregularities, said Ilkka Kanerva, who headed the Organization for Security and Cooperation monitoring mission.

"The improved transparency and trust we have seen in the election administration are important steps, yet legal restrictions on basic rights continue to be a problem," Kanerva said in Moscow on September 19.

With about 95 percent of the ballots counted, United Russia was expected to take about 343 seats in the 450-seat State Duma, giving it far more than the two-thirds needed to amend the constitution.

Preliminary results announced on September 19 by the Central Election Commission (TsIK) showed United Russia with 54.28 percent of the party list vote, under which 225 Duma seats are assigned to candidates listed by political parties winning at least 5 percent of the ballots cast.

Candidates from United Russia, which is backed by President Vladimir Putin, also were leading in most of the 225 "single-mandate" constituencies, where the candidate with the most votes wins.

Unlike the last two parliamentary elections, in 2011 and 2007, this year half of the mandates were distributed according to national party-list voting and the other half were contested in single-mandate districts.

TsIK chief Ella Pamfilova said United Russia was on track to win 140 Duma seats by party ticket and another 203 in single-mandate constituencies.

Only three other parties were on track to surpass the 5 percent threshold and secure party representation in the legislature. All regularly vote with United Russia on key issues and all are represented in the outgoing Duma.

They include the Communist Party with 13.45 percent (42 seats), flamboyant ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 13.24 percent (39 seats), and A Just Russia with 6.17 percent (23 seats).

Pamfilova said final results should be announced on September 23.

Only three single-mandate seats went to candidates from other parties -- one from the nationalist Motherland party, one from the Kremlin-friendly Civic Platform party, and one mandate going to independent candidate Vladislav Reznik.

No candidates from the opposition liberal parties Yabloko or Parnas won seats in the new Duma.

WATCH: As official results were announced on September 19, itappeared they broadly reflected the opinions of voters interviewed by RFE/RL in the southern city of Krasnoyarsk as they left the polls. But there were some dissenting views too. (RFE/RL's Russian Service)

Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of the current Duma, said the new Duma will hold its first session during the first week of October, at which the election of a new speaker will be decided. He said he expected the leaders of the parties gaining seats to agree in advance on the distribution of leadership posts.

The ruling party also dominated local and regional elections held the same day, with nine incumbent regional leaders headed for reelection. Kremlin-backed Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who critics say rules his region through intimidation, was reelected with more than 97 percent of the vote.

The TsIK said turnout was 47.81 percent of eligible voters -- down from about 60 percent in the 2011 election.

Putin praised the results, saying they showed strong public confidence in the ruling party. He told a government session on September 19 that it remained necessary to listen to the voices of parties that did not gain representation when formulating policy.

"In our domestic politics, we definitely must listen to and hear all the political forces, including the ones who failed to make it to the parliament," Putin said. "We ought to and we will develop a multiparty system in the Russian Federation and support civil society, including patriotically oriented NGOs."

In contrast to the OSCE, whose members include the United States, most Western European nations, along with Russia, monitors from the Russia-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States and Shanghai Cooperation Organization praised the elections as democratic and transparent. Monitors from both groups have routinely praised past votes in Russia and ex-Soviet republics that have been criticized by European observers.

"The elections were in line with the principles of carrying out democratic elections," CIS monitoring-mission head Vladimir Garkun said in Moscow on September 19. "They were open and competitive."

At a news conference on September 19, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov criticized the vote, saying that the low turnout indicated the people "have voted with their feet."

"There has been massive, multimillion ballot stuffing with only one party marked," Zyuganov charged. "Otherwise the mathematics we have been fed on the giant screen of the Central Election Commission couldn’t have been possible."

Voting was also taking place on the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, the first time since Moscow's annexation of Black Sea region in 2014. OSCE monitors did not observe the elections in the region, and the United States issued a statement on September 18 saying the Duma elections in Crimea were illegitimate and the United States would not recognize them.

WATCH: Duma Election Vote Takes Place In Crimea (natural sound)

Alleged Violations

TsIK head Pamfilova said 181 reports of procedural violations had been received on election day. Results were annulled polling stations in Belgorod Oblast and in Rostov Oblast, while the TsIK is investigating alleged irregularities in Siberia’s Altai region.

Among the potential violations he cited were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they were not registered and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths.

WATCH: Moscow Residents Vote In Duma Elections (natural sound)

A September 19 statement by the independent monitoring organization Golos said the elections were "far from truly free and fair." It added that the situation has improved since 2011, but said "institutional changes [are still] needed to prevent fraud."

A video posted on YouTube appeared to show a poll worker in the southern Rostov region dropping multiple sheets of paper into a ballot box. By midafternoon Moscow time, the group said it had received reports of 310 alleged violations by phone and 656 on its interactive website.

One video taken by a surveillance camera at a polling station in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don generated substantial discussion on Russian social media and online forums.

The video posted on the Golos website appeared to show a woman putting multiple paper ballots into a ballot box while two polling station workers stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the box, obscuring the box from bystanders’ view.

WATCH: Apparent Ballot Stuffing In Rostov-on-Don

National surveys had predicted a United Russia victory, but polls also showed high levels of apathy among voters weary or indifferent amid the economic slowdown and the perception there are no genuine alternatives to the ruling party.

After the last election in 2011, massive protests broke out in Moscow and elsewhere, as voters responded angrily to perception that the voting was rigged, rattling authorities with their size and persistence. That led to a series of new laws aimed at restricting public protests and hampering the work of nongovernmental organizations.

In addition to dominating the Duma, United Russia also holds controlling majorities in regional parliaments.

Weeks before the vote, authorities stepped up pressure on Golos and the independent polling agency Levada Center, labeling them "foreign agents" because they received funding from foreign sources. That label, which has echoes of Soviet policies aimed at undermining foreign influences, hampered the groups' work.

One survey produced by the Levada Center documented a visible decline in the popularity of United Russia.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department offered a tempered assessment of the vote, saying, among other things, the candidate registration process was flawed, particularly for independent candidates.

Department spokesman John Kirby also said in a statement released September 19 that there were reports of some local authorities misusing administrative resources during the campaign, some campaign events were blocked and prominent members of the political opposition harassed.

"Like people everywhere, Russians deserve free, fair, and transparent elections, and leaders who are accountable to those they represent," Kirby said.

With reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Robert Coalson in Prague, AFP, AP, Euronews, TASS, and Interfax
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