Putin's party set for a narrow election win

 

Despite widespread reports of electoral fraud, Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party failed to secure a huge victory in yesterday's parliamentary elections, early results show.

With 17 per cent of the votes counted, Russia's Central Election Committee said that United Russia had received about 46 per cent in elections seen as a test of popularity ahead of a presidential vote next March, when Mr Putin intends to return to the Kremlin after four years as Prime Minister. Official exit polls gave similar results.

Despite endless positive media coverage on state-controlled television, reports of ballot stuffing and multiple voting, and pressure on public sector workers to vote for United Russia, the party's support fell from the 64 per cent it received in 2007.

"It's a total disaster for the party of power," said political analyst Stanislav Belkovsky. Reports of foul play designed to boost results for Mr Putin's party were widespread. Golos, Russia's only independent election monitoring organisation, reported thousands of violations across Russia.

There was a claim – backed by a video – that one polling station in Moscow had pens that used erasable ink, meaning that ballots could in theory be tampered with after voting.

In the city of Bryansk, Golos claimed its election observer had been locked in the toilet at a polling station and not let out. Elsewhere, a Russian journalist went undercover on a bus full of Kremlin youth activists who were being ferried around Moscow to vote, repeatedly, at different polling stations, in favour of United Russia. Known as a "carousel", this practice was the talking point of the day, with claims that it was widespread, adding thousands of votes for Mr Putin's party.

Protests were held by small groups of opposition activists in various cities, but most of them were swiftly broken up. Several opposition leaders were arrested after an unsanctioned protest in Moscow. Police said they detained about 100 protesters in the capital.

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