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Pro-Putin party retains majority in Russian vote but support declines


Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the hall during his meeting with the United Russia Party candidates on August 22, 2021, in Moscow, Russia.

Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, appears to have retained its majority in State Duma elections at the weekend, cementing its control of parliament and bolstering President Vladimir Putin’s power base.

The party, which endorses Putin, has received around 49.7% of the votes so far, according to the latest results from Russia’s Central Election Commission, with 85% of the votes counted.

The party’s nearest rival, the Communist Party, is expected to get around 20% of the vote, and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia is seen receiving around 7.5% of the vote. In a country that restricts political opposition and has an independent media, both are considered token opposition parties.

Voter turnout stood at 45.15%, the election commission noted, down from 47.8% in the last election in 2016.

It was widely expected that the ruling United Russia party would secure a victory in the vote which took place between Sept. 17-19. United Russia has been the dominant party in the country for decades and it enthusiastically supports Putin, although he has run as an independent candidate since 2018.

Nonetheless, the party appears to have seen its share of the vote decline — at the last Duma election in 2016, United Russia won 54.2% of the vote. As more Russians complain about their living conditions, and as a result of a crackdown by the Kremlin, Alexei Navalny is still in jail. He remains with several groups that he branded extremist and has his supporters banned from running for public office.

Kremlin critics say that there were many instances of electoral fraud and irregularities, such as ballot stuffing or the impediment of impartial inspection of the voting process. Navalny’s press secretary was one of those who questioned the slow publication electronic votes in Moscow. In this region, United Russia has a lower performance than it does in other areas.

Russia’s Central Election Commission confirmed that voting had been conducted as normal, and said it would investigate reports of irregularities. On Sunday, it reported that 7,465 ballots were invalidated at 45 polling stations across 14 regions. The reasons range from defective printing to the loss of the lid on a portable vote box.

We are extremely strict in this matter, and very exacting. Ella Pamfilova (chairperson of Central Election Commission of Russia) commented that if there is any doubt we will recommend to our committees that the ballots be invalidated.

Independent Russian vote monitor Golos, which itself had been designated a “foreign agent” by the state ahead of the election, said it had received multiple reports of electoral violations.

Golos reported Sunday night of a “declination in publicity, transparency and openness” during the voting period.

Changing demographics

Putin, who has alternated between roles as prime minister and president since 1999, has not said whether he will run for re-election in 2024 presidential election, but this latest parliamentary election is seen as shoring up his power base should he choose to do so.

Russia is under scrutiny from close observers who say that this vote does not support Putin. The Kremlin has one major problem: Russia’s shifting demographics.

Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management is a senior emerging markets sovereign strategist. He stated that Monday’s “story should be the low participation – approximately 47%”.

“So despite all the pressure on state workers to vote the turnout was still embarrassing,” he said, noting that the result was “hardly a vote of confidence in Putin – I would instead argue [it means] a crisis of legitimacy,” he said.

Chris Weafer is chief executive officer, Macro-Advisory’s Moscow-based strategy consulting firm. He told CNBC that “the real problem which scares Russia” was “the changing demographics.” 

It means that more people were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union and have been a growing share of the voting base. Weafer stated that this generation travels more and makes use of the internet at a higher rate per capita than most people from other countries.

He added that this demographic doesn’t buy into the Kremlin’s stability narrative.

“[They] Weafer stated that they want a better lifestyle, higher incomes and social support to ensure a brighter future for their family and themselves. It will be difficult for Putin and other Russian “elites” to fulfill these expectations while maintaining power. Failing to meet the expectations of the former will lead to a more severe decline in power in the future Presidential term, regardless of who the President is.