Pro-Putin party heads for Russian election win after Navalny clampdown By Reuters
By Tom Balmforth and Maria Tsvetkova
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russians vote on Sunday in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary election that the ruling party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from the ballot.
The Kremlin will use the expected victory of the United Russia party to prove its support for President Vladimir Putin, despite years of poor living conditions.
According to state pollsters, although the party backing Russia’s 68 year-old leader is in a slump in ratings, it remains much more popular than its nearest rivals, the Communist Party or nationalist LDPR parties, who often support the Kremlin.
Nearly three quarters (or more) of all the 450 State Duma seats are held by United Russia. The Kremlin’s dominance in the last year allowed them to pass constitution reforms which allow Putin to run two terms for President after 2024. This could potentially keep him in power until 2036.
On Navalny’s blog, a message was posted to supporters this week: “If United Russia wins (to win), then our country can expect an additional five years poverty, five year of repressions and five lost years.”
After his extremist movement was outlawed in June, Navalny and his allies were banned from running. Others in opposition claim they were either not permitted to run or targeted by dirty tricks campaigns.
To confuse his voters, a Communist strawberry tycoon claimed he was barred from running while St Petersburg’s liberal opposition politician said that two “spoiler”, identically named candidates were running for him.
The Kremlin denies a politically-driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. The Kremlin and United Russia reject any part in the candidate registration.
Navalny’s group is encouraging a tactic voting strategy against United Russia, which authorities are trying to block online. Google (NASDAQ), Apple (NASDAQ), and Telegram Messenger have restricted access to some campaign information since voting started on Friday. The activists accuse them, however, of yielding to political pressure.
The polls close at 1800 GMT Sunday in Kaliningrad, an European exclave. The vote is the last before the 2024 Presidential Election. Putin will turn 69 next month. He hasn’t yet said whether he would run.
Navalny, a Moscow-based tactical voter campaign that encouraged his supporters to vote for Mikhail Lobanov of the Communist Party, has been a success. He expressed his appreciation for the Navalny campaign, but criticized United Russia.
Lobanov stated that people see the inequalities and feel the consequences of economic policies and the rise of repression. They then respond to this dissatisfaction with their anger.
Lobanov’s District polling station had three respondents who told Reuters that they voted United Russia. Three others said the same, and two more claimed to have voted Communist at Navalny’s behest.
Anatoly, a Moscow pensioner that chose to remain anonymous said that he voted United Russia as he is proud of Russia’s strong foreign policy and Putin’s attempts to restore Russia’s legitimate great power status.
“Countries like the United States and Britain more or less respect us now like they respected the Soviet Union in the 1960s and 70s… The Anglo-Saxons only understand the language of force,” he said.
At a polling station located in the capital, home to more than 12 million people, other voters expressed anger towards United Russia. In recent years United Russia’s performance has been worse than some countries.
“I hate United Russia.” Roman Malakhov, a Communist voter, said that they have not done any good.
This vote takes place alongside local elections for governors and legislative assembly members. The COVID-19-precautionary measure allows it to be extended for three more days.