Majority Narrows for Putin’s Party in Russia Polls; OSCE: Violations Mar Vote

Posted December 5th, 2011 at 1:35 pm (UTC-5)
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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party has suffered surprisingly steep losses in parliamentary elections, giving the man who has dominated politics there for more than a decade a much reduced majority.

With 96 percent of the vote counted, United Russia on Monday looked set to win 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma, or lower house, down sharply from the 315 seats it had secured in 2007 elections.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported many violations of election rules favoring the United Russia party. The OSCE says frequent procedural violations included problems with the vote-counting, ballot-box stuffing and a lack of fairness. Even so, the projected results show Mr. Putin's party losing the more than two-thirds of the parliamentary supermajority that has given United Russia the ability to change the constitution unilaterally.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton on Monday expressed “serious concerns” about the conduct of Russia's parliamentary elections. She said Russian voters deserve a full investigation so they know the election was held fairly and that their votes were cast and counted honestly.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the elections were honest and fair.

The Communists, along with the nationalist Liberal Democrats and Just Russia — a social democratic party — all made strong gains, meaning that Mr. Putin's party will be forced to work with at least some of the country's newly empowered opposition. The Communist Party took 92 seats, followed by Just Russia with 64 and the Liberal Democrats with 56.

The Central Election Commission said Monday that United Russia had garnered 49.5 percent of the ballots cast, compared with 64 percent in 2007. Gennadi Zyuganov's Communist Party is running a distant second with just under 20 percent, up from 12 percent four years ago.

Russian analysts in recent weeks predicted a sharp decline in the ruling party's popularity, with voters voicing discontent about the growing income gap between Russia's rich and poor, and allegations of official corruption.

In remarks late Sunday, Mr. Putin said voters had reaffirmed United Russia as “the nation's leading political force” and that the result would “ensure [the country's] stable development.”

Earlier, police detained more than 100 opposition activists during a demonstration in Moscow. Dozens more were arrested in St. Petersburg.

Also Sunday, Russia's only independent election monitor, Golos, told VOA that police had blocked some of its poll watchers from their posts around the nation.

Oleos and the popular Russian opposition radio station Echo Musky also said their websters were hacked, making them inaccessible. Several opposition news sites also were not working.

Oleos says it has compiled more than 5,300 complaints of election law violations, and it accused the ruling party of complicity in most of them.

Last week, Mr. Putin, the current prime minister, formally accepted his party's nomination to return to the presidency – a post that analysts say he is certain to win. He announced his intentions in September, confirming a deal under which he would appoint President Medvedev as his prime minister.

The planned job swap has angered many in Russia, who said it would strengthen authoritarian rule and clear the way for Mr. Putin to become Russia's longest-serving leader since communist times.

If he regains the presidency, the 59-year-old Mr. Putin could serve two more 6-year terms and remain in power until 2024. He was first elected president in 2000.