MOSCOW – Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has accused the Kremlin of using "intimidation and repression" to steal parliamentary elections that saw the ruling United Russia party retain its constitutional majority amid widespread reports of voting irregularities and ballot tampering.
Writing in an Instagram message from prison, Navalny said on September 21 that his tactical voting system was "a huge success," weakening the party of President Vladimir Putin's choice, only to have the results "redrawn in the most primitive way."
"The crooks twisted the results on the scoreboard to make their winnings look more convincing," he said in the post.
"A fake result is lit on the scoreboard. Our observers were dragged from the polling stations. Intimidation and repression have robbed many of their will, and people are simply afraid to take to the streets," he added.
Hours earlier, the release of full preliminary voting results showed the Kremlin-backed United Russia party maintained its constitutional majority in the lower house of parliament in an election denounced by the West and described by an independent monitoring agency as "one of the dirtiest" in Russian history.
The Central Election Commission announced on September 21 that with all of the votes counted United Russia won 49.82 percent of the vote -- marking a drop of 6 percentage points in support from the previous elections in 2016.
According to preliminary final results of the three-day elections, which were marred by the lack of a significant opposition presence, United Russia candidates took 112 seats in the State Duma, along with 198 single-mandate constituencies across the country.
That gives the party a comfortable two-thirds majority in the Duma's 450 seats needed to make changes to the constitution.
United Russia's closest rival, the Communist Party, received 18.93 percent of the vote -- nearly 6 percentage points higher than in the previous elections.
Three other parties cleared the 5 percent hurdle required for representation in the State Duma: the Liberal Democratic Party with 7.55 percent of the vote, A Just Russia with 7.46 percent, and a newcomer party, New People, received 5.32 percent.
Turnout was reported at 51.6 percent.
Final results are to be announced on September 24.
The elections, held over the weekend alongside votes for regional governors and local legislative assemblies, are widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of a possible run in the 2024 presidential vote, making control of the State Duma key.
The vote was also criticized by the West, with the European Union denouncing "an atmosphere of intimidation of all the critical independent voices" in the run-up to the voting.
Many critics say the Kremlin carefully managed from the start, with the opposition largely barred from running and a crackdown on government opponents that shows no sign of abating.
The vote was a major event for Navalny, the jailed corruption crusader whose allies had invested heavily in their Smart Voting strategy, aimed at eroding United Russia’s stranglehold on politics.
As the vote kicked off on September 17, Navalny’s election-guide app disappeared from the Apple and Google online stores in what his associates slammed as censorship and bowing to pressure, and Telegram removed the Smart Voting bot after the company announced it would "limit the functioning of bots associated with election campaigns."
Navalny has languished in prison since February on what he and the West call politically motivated charges. All of his top aides have fled the country since his network was declared an “extremist organization” and outlawed by the government in June.
For the first time since 1993, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were not present due to limitations imposed by Russian authorities.
A co-chairman of the independent election-monitoring group Golos said 78,000 more electronic votes had appeared in the officials' Moscow tally than were issued, highlighting what they called a "shame" and "one of the dirtiest" elections in Russian history.
Navalny, who is the Kremlin’s most potent domestic critic, tried to end his Instagram post on a more positive note, urging his supporters to fight on in the battle for democracy.
"We have one country no matter where we live," the 45-year-old said on his Instagram account which is being run by his team.
"And the fight for it is not a sprint but a long and hard marathon."
Several hundred Communist demonstrators turned out in protest against the results in Moscow’s Pushkin Square in the evening on September 20 as police looked on.
Iron fences and police vans could be seen near the central square on the morning of September 21 ahead of the possibilities of more protests.
Across the country, there were reports of ballot-box stuffing and “carousel voting” -- where voters are bussed into multiple polling stations as an organized group.