Russia’s ruling United Russia party has cruised to an easy victory in parliamentary polls that could pave the way for President Vladimir Putin to glide to a fourth term in 2018 elections, with more than 93 per cent of votes counted.
Sunday’s ballot for the 450-seat State Duma was smooth sailing for authorities desperate to avoid a repeat of mass protests last time round and eager to increase their dominance as Russia faces the longest economic crisis of Putin’s rule.
But a low turnout of less than 50 per cent suggested that many Russians may have been turned off by a system in which the Kremlin wields near-total power, which could raise questions over legitimacy.
“We can announce already with certainty that the party secured a good result, that it won,” Putin said after polls closed.
“The situation is tough and difficult but the people still voted for United Russia,” he said on state television.
With more than 93 per cent of the votes counted, the United Russia party had 54.3 per cent of votes, securing it at least 343 seats in the 450-member parliament, up from 238 previously, and a constitutional majority, according to results announced Monday morning.
It was followed by the Communists and the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, on 13.5 per cent and 13.2 per cent respectively, and A Just Russia, which received 6.2 per cent, results published by the central election commission showed.
Those four parties — which made up the last parliament and all back the Kremlin — were the only ones to clear the five percent threshold needed to claim a share of the one-half of seats up for grabs.
The vote comes as Putin’s approval ratings remain high at around 80 per cent and authorities appear to be banking on trouble-free presidential elections in two years.
Results indicated that liberal opposition groups would not make it into parliament, with neither the Yabloko party, nor the Parnas party of former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and assassinated Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, having secured enough votes to win a seat.
“I’m upset by such a low turnout at these polls. Russians are letting go possibly the last chance to change the authorities democratically,” Kasyanov said after the vote ended.
With only a fraction of the votes counted, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev confidently said that his party would end up with an “absolute majority” in the Duma.
Though the overall tally for United Russia was higher than the 49 per cent it claimed in 2011, participation was low, particularly in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Only 47.8 of voters cast their ballots, against 60 per cent in 2011, electoral officials said.