Russia’s ruling United Russia party cruised to an easy victory in parliamentary polls but a low turnout suggested a softening of enthusiasm for the ruling elite 18 months before the next presidential election.
President Vladimir Putin’s party had 54.2 percent of the vote after 90 percent of ballots were counted on Monday, data from the election commission showed.
The Communist party was in second place with 13.5 percent of the vote, followed by the Liberal Democrats party on 13.3 percent and the Just Russia party on 6.2 percent, according to an incomplete vote count.
The election for the 450-seat State Duma went smoothly for a government desperate to avoid a repeat of mass protests last time round and eager to increase their dominance as the country faces the longest economic crisis of Putin’s rule.
“We can announce already with certainty that the party secured a good result, that it won,” Putin said after the vote. “The situation is tough and difficult but the people still voted for United Russia,” he said on state television.
Putin’s aides are likely to use the result as a springboard for his campaign for re-election in 2018, though he has not yet confirmed that he will seek another term.
Alluding to the spluttering economy, which is forecast to shrink this year by at least 0.3 percent, Putin said: “We know that life is hard for people, there are lots of problems, lots of unresolved problems. Nevertheless, we have this result.”
Results indicated that liberal opposition groups were unlikely to make it into parliament, with neither the Yabloko party, nor the Parnas party, headed by former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, appearing to have secured enough votes to win a seat.
Sunday’s election follows a tumultuous few years that have seen Russia seize the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine, plunge into its worst standoff with the West since the Cold War and start a military campaign in Syria.
But the Kremlin exerts almost complete control over the media and public discourse, and this year’s election campaign was dubbed the dullest in recent memory.
Looming large was the spectre of mass protests over vote-rigging that followed the last legislative polls five years ago and grew into the biggest challenge to Putin since he took charge in 2000.
Since then the government has cracked down on the right to protest while pledging to stamp out electoral manipulation.
A former scandal-tainted election chief was removed in favour of a human rights advocate who allowed more genuine opposition candidates to take part.
Despite the authorities pledging to crack down on vote-rigging, observers around the country made claims of violations including “cruise-voting”, where people are bussed to vote at multiple polling stations, and ballot stuffing.
Electoral Commission chief Ella Pamfilova admitted that there had been problems in certain regions but officials said the number of violations was way down on the last vote.
“In any case there already is full confidence that the elections are nonetheless quite legitimate,” Pamfilova said. “And we did a lot for that.”