Putin's party sees majority slashed

 

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party saw its majority in Russia's parliament weaken sharply, according to preliminary election results released today, a humiliating setback for the man who has steadily tightened his grip on the nation for nearly 12 years.

Some opposition politicians and election monitors said even a result of around 50 percent for Putin's United Russia party was inflated because of vote fraud. Their claims were backed by international observers, who pointed to procedural violations and serious indications of ballot stuffing after a campaign slanted in favor of United Russia.

"To me, this election was like a game in which only some players are allowed to compete," Heidi Tagliavini, the head of the international observer mission, said at a news conference.

United Russia is still expected to retain its majority in the lower house and Putin is all but certain to win next March's presidential election, but Sunday's vote badly dented his carefully groomed image. It reflected a strong public frustration with the lack of political competition, ubiquitous official corruption and the gap between rich and poor.

With about 96 percent of precincts counted, United Russia was leading with 49.5 percent of the vote, Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov said. He predicted that it will get 238 of the Duma's 450 seats, a sharp drop compared to the previous vote that landed the party a two-thirds majority in the State Duma, allowing it to change the constitution.

Final preliminary results were to be announced on Monday morning, but the count dragged on for longer than expected. Some opposition politicians alleged that election officials may manipulate the vote count to make sure that United Russia gets over 50 percent mark. Mikhail Kasyanov, a former prime minister who is now in opposition, said that Putin badly needs the figure to avoid looking weak.

The monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly wouldn't say if the irregularities could be at the scale to question if United Russia has an unearned majority. But Tagliavini said that of the 150 polling stations where the counting was observed, "34 were assessed to be very bad."

Putin tried to put a positive spin on the returns, saying late Sunday that "we can ensure the stable development of the country with this result." But he appeared glum when speaking to supporters at United Russia headquarters and limited his remarks to a terse statement.

United Russia has been seen increasingly as the party of corrupt officials, and its description as a "party of crooks and thieves" has stuck, flashing up as the first suggestion on Russia's top web search engine.

Seeing the declining fortunes of his party, Putin named his handpicked successor as president, Dmitry Medvedev, to lead United Russia's list. The vote will further weaken the position of Medvedev, whom Putin promised to name prime minister after the presidential vote, a move that has fueled public irritation.

In the run-up to the vote, Putin also sought to stem a quick decline in United Russia's popularity by trying to expand its support base with a so-called Popular Front, an umbrella group for unions, professional associations, veteran groups and others. But the effort has brought no visible result, and Putin last month received a stinging blow to his own ego when he was met with catcalls after a mixed martial arts fight at a Moscow arena.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said the vote spelled the end of Putin's "honeymoon" with the nation and predicted that his rule will soon "collapse like a house of cards." "He needs to hold an honest presidential election and allow opposition candidates to register for the race, if he doesn't want to be booed from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad," Nemtsov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Security was tight in central Moscow with police trucks parked in some areas. Police said they arrested more than 100 protesters who tried to stage an unsanctioned rally in Moscow and about 70 others in St. Petersburg.

The Communist Party appeared to benefit most from the protest vote, with exit polls and the early returns predicting it would get nearly 20 percent, up from less than 12 percent four years ago. The socialist Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party led by mercurial nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky are also expected to increase their representation in the Duma.

Despite that, Putin should still have no problem getting his laws rubber-stamped. Even the Communists have posed only token opposition in the outgoing Duma, and the two other parties have consistently voted with United Russia.

Medvedev said Monday that United Russia would be ready to build coalitions in the new Duma, even though it will have a majority. He said he may fire governors of the provinces where the party fared particularly badly.

About 60 percent of Russia's 110 million registered voters cast ballots, down from 64 percent four years ago.

Only seven parties were allowed to field candidates for parliament this year, while the most vocal opposition groups were barred from the race.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the US has "serious concerns" about the elections.

"Russian voters deserve a full investigation of all credible reports of electoral fraud and manipulation and we hope in particular that then Russian authorities will take action" on reports that come forward, Clinton said.

The international monitors said the election administration lacked independence, most media were partial and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels.

This "did not provide the conditions for fair electoral competiton," said Petros Efthymiou, coordinator of the short-term observation mission. "Changes are needed for the will of the people to be respected."

Social media were flooded with messages reporting violations. Many people reported seeing buses deliver groups of people to polling stations, with some of the buses carrying young men who looked like football fans.

"The elections were unprecedented in terms of dirt, pressure and the use of a well-oiled falsification machine," Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said Monday, alleging that the vote is still being rigged as the count is going on. His party said it recorded violations at some 1,600 polling stations and said they would appeal election results at each of them.

Russia's only independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by US and European grants, has come under heavy official pressure in the past week. Golos' website was incapacitated by hackers on Sunday, and its director Lilya Shibanova and her deputy had their cell phone numbers, email and social media accounts hacked.

Andrey Buzin, chief of Golos election monitoring, said it had received more than 1,500 complaints about violations.

But despite the heavy-handed state interference in the campaign and numerous violations, voters still took advantage of their right to express their choice, observers said.

"Yesterday, it was proven by these voters that not everything was fixed, that the result really matters," said Tiny Kox of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

AP

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum