Russian Elections Mark Victory for Putin Allies
But international observers called the poll “distorted” and the White House expressed concerns about its fairness.
The parliamentary election marked a wide victory for the president’s United Russia party, which campaigned with the slogan “Together With the President,” soundly defeating the Communist Party, Putin’s main opposition.
The win should give Putin an advantage in gaining the 450-seat Duma’s approval for future policy initiatives as he prepares for his own re-election bid in March.
With more than 98 percent of the vote counted, United Russia won 37.1 percent, Central Election Commission Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said at a news conference. Veshnyakov also reported that voter turnout was at 56 percent.
The communists followed with only 12.7 percent of the vote, a sharp drop from the 24 percent they won in 1999. The party won enough votes to remain an opposition voice in the new Duma but party leader Gennady Zyuganov called the election a “shameful farce” and said a parallel vote would be held to expose irregularities in the poll.
Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a supporter of the Kremlin on key issues, won 11.6 percent, and Motherland, viewed by many as a Kremlin creation to further challenge the communists, garnered 9.1 percent.
The two main liberal parties, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces, failed to get the 5 percent of the vote needed to secure representation seats for their parties in the new Duma.
“The election is another step in strengthening democracy in the Russian Federation,” Putin told senior officials, according to Reuters.
But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an election and democracy watchdog which had over 400 observers in Russia for the poll, said the vote was skewed by the use of administrative and media resources to promote Putin’s allies, giving them an unfair advantage.
“In this election the enormous advantage of incumbency and access to state equipment, resources and buildings led to the election result being overwhelmingly distorted,” said Bruce George, president of the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly.
“It’s the shared and unanimous view that these deficiencies called into question Russia’s willingness to move towards European and international standards for democratic elections,” George told a news conference.
The United States also expressed concern about the poll. White House spokesman Scott McClellan noted the OSCE’s “concerns about the fairness of the election campaign.”
“We share those concerns — a fact which underlines the importance of Russian legislators dedicating themselves to pushing through the political and economic reform agenda,” McClellan told reporters.
The results of the parliamentary election, the fourth such poll since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, may also make it more difficult for potential presidential candidates to mount a significant challenge to Putin in the March election.
“The main thing is the defeat of the Communist Party, because Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces played a fairly insignificant role in the old Duma,” Gleb Pavlovsky, head of the Effective Policy Foundation, told Interfax.
“This is a party without a presidential candidate,” he said of the communists.
Half the Duma seats will be distributed proportionately among the parties winning more than 5 percent of the nationwide vote, while the winners of individual district races will fill the other 225 seats.
The full measure of the Kremlin’s power over the Duma will not be known until after the results from the district races are fully reported and the allegiances of the deputies are made clear.