September 19, 2016
With just over 50 percent of the ballots from Russia's State Duma elections counted, official results show the governing United Russia party on track to win more than 300 of the 450 legislative seats – enough to secure a two-thirds constitutional majority in the lower chamber of parliament.
The preliminary results announced in Moscow early on September 19 by Central Election Commission show United Russia with more than 53 percent of the party list vote.
Candidates from United Russia, which is backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, also were leading in 203 of 255 single-member constituencies with half of all ballots counted.
Unlike the last two parliamentary elections, only half of the seats will be selected by national party-list, with the other 225 being contested in races held in specific districts.
Only three other parties were on track to surpass the 5 percent threshold needed in the September 18 election to secure party representation in the legislature. All are loyal to the Kremlin and its policies.
They include the Communist Party with 14 percent, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 13.9 percent, and A Just Russia with 6.2 percent.
But the September 18 vote faced the danger of being tarnished by lower voter turnout and a growing number of reported violations.
The Central Election Commission said early on September 19 that turnout was about 47.5 percent of eligible voters – down from about 60 percent in the 2011 State Duma election.
Authorities were closely watching for signs of discontent or unrest, as the country struggles with an economy hobbled by low oil prices, Western sanctions, rising inflation, and falling foreign investment.
President Putin hailed the results, telling lawmakers at United Russia's election headquarters that they were a vote of confidence.
He also alluded the country's continuing economic problems, but insisted that Russians acknowledge lawmakers "are really working hard even though it does not always work."
"The situation is not easy, people feel that, and they want and hope that the political situation should be stable," he said.
Voting was also held on the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, the first time since Moscow's annexation of the Black Sea region in 2014.
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.
"Information about violations is coming constantly from various regions," the Interfax news agency quoted Ilya Shablinsky, a coordinator of observers for the presidential Council on Human Rights, as saying.
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.
The election monitoring group Golos also said it was receiving violation complaints.
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.
Later, Central Election Commission head Ella Pamfilova was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying three polling stations had been found to have engaged in ballot box stuffing and she said their vote tallies would be nullified. It was unclear if the Rostov-on-Don station was among them.
"What United Russia promises, United Russia does," Aleftina Lebedeva, 63, told RFE/RL outside a polling station in Moscow. "I'm a pensioner and I can say that what they promised, they have done."
Karina Mishulina, a 35-year-old actress in Moscow, expressed dissatisfaction with Putin's party.
"All these laws, the education system has been destroyed, medical care too, there's no money, mom gets kopecks for her pension," Mishulina said. "What good is there? They have houses, castles, and so on, and we, excuse me, are starving."
Alina Lebedeva, a 75-year-old retired teacher, said she wouldn't vote for United Russia, but was instead thinking about voting for the Rodina party.
"We have to change something. We have to advance forward. Why is everyone attacking us? Why is everyone calling us some kind of aggressor? Why is this happening with Ukraine? I don't like it," she told RFE/RL."Why can't we somehow overcome this situation with Ukraine? It scares me if they can't do anything about it. Why are we fighting there? It's awful."
The Kremlin has tried to assure voters of a clean vote by allowing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the elections and appointing Pamfilova head of the election commission.
Pamfilova said on September 18 that she had received reports of so-called carousel voting -- where voters are bussed from one polling station to another, voting at each one, after obtaining absentee ballots -- in Barnaul, a city in the southern Siberian region of Altai.
If confirmed, she said, the commission would call for criminal prosecution and consider annulling the results.
"Everything is going normally" in most regions, Pamfilova said while the voting was still continuing on September 18.
The OSCE mission was expected to announce its findings on the conduct of the elections on September 19.
"For the authorities it is important to preserve an air of decency," Yekaterina Shulman of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration told AFP.
United Russia, holds 238 of the 450 seats in the outgoing Duma,as well as controlling majorities in Russia's regional parliaments.
A total of 14 parties took part in the elections.
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.