MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s ruling party will get 324 of the 450 seats in the next national parliament, election authorities announced Tuesday. The number is less than the pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, won in the previous election but still an overwhelming majority.
Retaining the party’s dominance in the State Duma was widely seen as crucial for the Kremlin ahead of Russia’s presidential election in 2024. President Vladimir Putin’s current term expires that year, and he is expected either to seek reelection or to choose another strategy to stay in power.
A parliament the Kremlin can control could be key to both scenarios, analysts and Kremlin critics say.
Most opposition politicians were excluded from the parliamentary election that concluded Sunday, which was tainted by numerous reports of violations and voter fraud.
The results gave United Russia 49.8% of the vote for the 225 seats apportioned by parties. Another 225 lawmakers are chosen directly by voters, and United Russia candidates won 198 of those races.
Russia’s Central Election Commission said on Tuesday that these wins will translate into 324 seats for the party, which is 19 seats fewer than in 2016 but still enough to make changes to the Russian Constitution.
Three other parties that usually toe the Kremlin line will take most of the remaining seats, along with the New People party, which was formed last year and is regarded by many as a Kremlin-sponsored project.
Individual candidates from three more parties each won a seat, along with five independents.
The Communist Party, the second-biggest political force in the parliament, will get 57 seats — an improvement from the 42 seats five years ago.
Few opposition candidates were allowed to run this time around after Russian authorities unleashed a sweeping crackdown on Kremlin critics.
The government declared organizations linked to imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny as extremist, and a new law barred anyone associated with them from seeking public office. Navalny is serving a 2½-year prison sentence for violating parole from a previous conviction he says is politically motivated.
Other prominent opposition politicians faced prosecution or were forced to leave Russia under pressure from authorities.
Navalny’s team hoped to undermine United Russia’s dominance with its Smart Voting strategy, which endorsed candidates who had the best chance of defeating those backed by the Kremlin. However, authorities undertook a massive effort to suppress the project in recent weeks.
Navalny, other opposition politicians and independent election monitors have denounced the results of the weekend election. Kremlin critics cited polls from earlier this year that showed less than 30% of Russians were willing to cast ballots for the ruling party.
Opposition activists and news outlets also pointed to races in 15 single-constituency districts in Moscow, where United Russia’s approval ratings have been traditionally lower than elsewhere in the country and protest voting was more widespread.
Candidates endorsed by Smart Voting were winning at least half of those races until the results of online voting — something that was an option in Moscow and several other regions — came in on Monday, when the Kremlin-backed candidates suddenly shot ahead.
“Technically, we’re seeing a huge success of Smart Voting,” Navalny said in a social media post relayed from prison through his lawyers. “Look at the charts with Moscow results before the fraudulent online voting and after. But to be honest, the overall result can’t be called a victory. Our result has been simply stolen.”