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Russian Communists Protest Online Vote Results As Putin Declares State Duma Elections 'Free And Fair'

The protest was organized by several Russian politicians, mostly Communists, who said they were cheated of victory in recent elections.
The protest was organized by several Russian politicians, mostly Communists, who said they were cheated of victory in recent elections.

MOSCOW -- More than 1,000 Russian demonstrators, angered by the official tally from online voting during last week's parliamentary elections, defied warnings from authorities on September 25 to protest in central Moscow.

The protest was organized by several Russian politicians, most of them Communists, who said they were cheated of victory by an online voting system.

Calling for the online voting system to be scrapped, the protesters held up posters with slogans, such as "bring back the elections."

"I came here today to express my will that we have once again been deceived," one woman demonstrator at the rally told reporters.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting with leaders of political parties entering the State Duma that "elections and online voting" are "unstoppable, just like technological progress."

Despite widespread accusations of fraud and voting irregularities, and in spite of a harsh crackdown and bans against candidates who oppose Putin and the ruling United Russia party, the president declared that last week's elections were "free and fair."

"The elections themselves were held openly and in strict accordance with the law," Putin said.

A protester at the demonstration in Moscow on September 25.
A protester at the demonstration in Moscow on September 25.

Based on the final official results released on September 24, United Russia received 324 of the 450 seats in the State Duma -- enough to retain a supermajority and pass legislation unilaterally. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) finished second to United Russia with 57 seats.

Three parties -- A Just Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and New People -- all received under 30 seats each, while another three, smaller parties gained one seat each. Five non-party-affiliated candidates were also elected.

No opposition candidates recommended by jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's Smart Voting app won individual seats.

In five of Moscow's electoral districts, three KPRF candidates, one candidate each from the Yabloko and New People parties, and one independent candidate saw their leads over the ruling United Russia party vanish after e-voting results were added to the final tallies.

“Three days [of voting] plus remote voting -- it's like a two-stage bomb that will blow up society’s stability and finally discredit that stability that the president has been creating for many years,” Communist Party General Secretary Gennady Zyuganov, stated during a September 23 online meeting with KPRF members.

Amid the controversy and confusion over the online voting results, concerns are rising that the Russian government's promotion of blockchain-based e-voting gives it a way to frustrate public scrutiny of the ruling United Russia party's hold on power.

Accusations of massive fraud and rampant voting violations also have put Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) on the defensive over the offline vote from September 17-19. But CEC Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova has not acknowledged any major violations to date.

Russian police detained opposition activists on the eve of the September 25 protest. The Moscow mayor's office, the prosecutor's office, and city police all issued warnings that they would break up any other unauthorized demonstrations during the weekend.

There were no reports of arrests during the Moscow demonstration. But the Communists said about 60 of their activists were detained ahead of the protest. Many were released after being held for a few hours.

Many opposition allies of Navalny were barred from running for office. They accuse authorities of censorship.

Navalny's Smart Voting election-guide app aimed to evade United Russia's stranglehold on state media and politics. But it disappeared from the Apple and Google online stores on September 17, the day voting started.

A group of independent municipal and regional deputies has launched a petition demanding all results from all of the elections throughout Russia be invalidated due to numerous violations and irregularities in the voting.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Ekho Moskvy, and TASS

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