Russia’s United Russia was assured a sweeping majority victory after the September 18 elections to the State Duma parliament, with the Kremlin-loyal party taking 54.23% after 94% of ballots were counted, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said the following morning.
While the party was accorded its largest win ever, voter turnout at 48% was by far the lowest in the history of the Russian legislature elections since 1993, and way below the average of 60% over the previous six elections.
“More than 57 million people didn’t go and vote, it’s a disgrace!” railed ultranationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, although his comments rang hollow since his Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) was vying with the Communist Party (CPRF) for second place, both with just over 13%.
A Just Russia party took 6.18% as the third member of the so-called “systemic opposition” in the Duma, which largely toes the Kremlin line on key issues. No other party overcame the 5% barrier, including the liberal Yabloko and Parnas parties of the opposition.
On the strength of the available results United Russia secured at least 343 places in the 450-seat State Duma. “Not only is this a constitutional majority (300 seats are required to amend the Constitution and key laws), this is also the largest majority ever in Russia’s post-Soviet history,” VTB Capital commented on September 19.
“According to counted ballots, the number of voters that took part in the voting reached 47.55%,” the CEC said. The voter turnout in the 2011 Duma elections was 60.21%, with almost million people taking part. In the 2016 elections, no minimal voter turnout was required.
The decline in voter turnout was anticipated by bne InelliNews, with the elections passing largely under the mass media radar, marked by deliberately weak campaigning and coverage, coupled with the tightening of control over the non-parliamentary opposition.
Nevertheless, a handful of genuine opposition candidates could enter the assembly as 225 lawmakers are elected in one-seat constituencies and another 225 by party tickets.
Alfa Bank commented on September 19 that the relatively high number of votes for the LDPR has likely benefited from the increase of patriotic and nationalist sentiment in Russia. The bank also sees a record-low participation rate in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg as a form of a protest voting.
Ballot stuffing should have been harder in this election, bne InelliNews noted on September 18, since although many independent domestic election observers were barred by stricter registration rules, webcams were supposed to have been installed in all polling stations to improve the transparency and legitimacy of the voting.
Voters were also active with phone cameras and recorded a number of infractions that were posted on social media. However, these incidents are minor is not likely to upset the United Russia victory, let alone leave to mass protests over 2011 elections legitimacy.
As United Russia led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev secures a comfortable victory in a Duma dubbed the “crazy printer” for its rubber stamping masses of legislation, the key question now is be Kremlin’s strategy in the 2018 presidential elections.
It is not yet clear what will be the role of President Vladimir Putin, currently in his third non-consecutive term in presidential office since 2000, not counting four years spent as a prime minister.
However, the massive reshuffle of what seemed a rigid “power vertical” started by Kremlin in 2016 in Moscow and at the regional level, along with reorganisation of the domestic security forces, shows that a scenario of power transition in 2018 is being developed.