The ruling party, United Russia, is preparing to revalidate its majority in the Russian Duma. In a parliamentary elections this weekend marked by the repression of the opposition and plagued by allegations of irregularities, the political formation to which President Vladimir Putin gives his support obtained the majority of the 450 seats in parliament, according to polls to ballot box, which gave the conservative formation 45.2% of the votes, a lower support, of course, than in the last legislative, in 2016 (it had 54%). Polls at school leaving also point to a significant rise in the Communist Party of Russia (21%). With social discontent on the rise due to the economic situation and the pandemic, Putin needs a legislative scene that supports his policies without any fissure and that guarantees stability until his term ends, in 2024, and decides whether to run again to lead the Kremlin, perpetuating itself in power as allowed by the reformed constitution.
With United Russia’s popularity at record lows (29%), the Kremlin has not wanted to risk losing its parliamentary majority. For months, the Russian authorities have repressed and harassed any dissident voice, from opponents to independent media or civil organizations. The campaign has been plagued with dirty tricks, such as clone candidates to mislead voters and split the opposition vote, and black propaganda aimed at hurting dissident candidates.
After imprisoning prominent opponent Alexei Navalni, who recovered from a poisoning attempt last year after which Western intelligence saw the Kremlin’s hand, the authorities have charged his organizations, outlawing them and declaring them extremists, and against their allies: in most of them exiled due to pressure or vetoed from participating in the elections.
In another turn of the screw in its authoritarian maneuvers, the Kremlin banned the digital tactical voting application devised by Navalni’s team, ‘smart vote’, which recommends those candidates with the most options to defeat United Russia, and has managed to get Google to, Apple and other Internet giants block them. “If United Russia manages [para ganar], our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repression, five wasted years, ”says the Navalni team on their blog. Meanwhile, the Kremlin has justified the repressive measures as necessary to thwart “foreign interference” in the elections.
Parliamentary elections in which Russian citizens have been able to vote for three days have given voters few real options. With latent social discontent due to the loss of living standards, the pandemic, corruption and the loss of quality of infrastructure, the Kremlin has not wanted to take risks and has vetoed almost all known opposition figures from the electoral contest. . The maneuvers have even reached the Russian Communist Party, the first party of the so-called “systemic opposition” loyal to the Kremlin. One of its main figures, the agricultural businessman and presidential candidate in 2018, Pável Grudinin, was also banned from attending.
This Sunday, the historic communist leader, Guennadi Zyuganov, has denounced that there have been numerous irregularities throughout the country. “We do not want votes from others, but neither will we give up ours,” he claimed after depositing his ballot at an electoral college in central Moscow, accompanied by the party’s staff in the region. “I do not rule out that all this gives rise to mass protests,” he added later on social networks. “I am sure people will not tolerate a blatant substitution of their choice,” he added.
The polls gave a rise for the Communist Party, which has hardened its tone in recent times, trying to capitalize on the protest vote and which has hopes of growing. The first results of the vote count in the Russian Far East, where discontent against the Kremlin sparked unprecedented protests last year, gave hope to the Communists and other opposition parties. The communists are also the most recommended candidates to defeat United Russia on the Navalni team’s ‘smart vote’ list.
A digital application that Galina, 89, knows nothing about. “In Russia there are only two parties, that of workers and that of capitalism,” he commented on leaving an electoral college in Moscow, a former social center of communist pioneers. “I have voted for social justice,” settled the woman, who preferred not to give her last name.
The elections are for the Kremlin a test of support for Putin. The president has been in power for more than two decades (between his years as prime minister and as president) and although he is not officially a member of United Russia, he supports the political formation. In recent weeks he has also insisted that he will follow his economic lines. Thus, the authorities are doing what they can to raise United Russia.
In recent months, they have done a facelift to the government party and have placed as heads of the list popular figures, such as Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. And in an attempt to get the party’s traditional base to vote, Putin has given an ‘extra pay’ of about 170 euros for families with school-age children, pensioners and the military. In Moscow, the authorities have also raffled off prizes for people who voted online that could even win cars and apartments.
At 142 Moscow school, Svetlana, an 82-year-old retired teacher, has it clear. “I voted for Putin, of course. I voted for stability ”, he commented. Although Putin is not an official member of the party and has not joined so that his popularity does not suffer with the fluctuations of the approval of the political formation, the Russian citizens know that the president is also United Russia.
For Putin, maintaining the support of Russian citizens remains key. However, in what are considered the dirtiest and most controlled elections in recent times in a country that has not had completely clean elections for decades, according to international electoral observers, apathy for the system is growing. “These elections are not real,” lamented Anton Dulov, a 44-year-old computer scientist, at a school in the capital. “It’s maddening, there is no option,” added Elizabeta Baidabálova, his 41-year-old wife.