MOSCOW: Russians voted 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 running.
The expected win by the ruling United Russia party will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs the 68-year-old leader faces a ratings slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot, the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party, which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three quarters of the State Duma’s 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.
“If United Russia manages (to win), our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years,” ran a message to supporters on Navalny’s blog this week.
Navalny’s allies were barred from running after his movement was banned in June as extremist. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns.
A Communist strawberry tycoon says he was unfairly barred, while a liberal opposition politician in St Petersburg says two identically-named “spoiler” candidates are running against him to confuse his voters.
The Kremlin denies a politically-driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia deny any role in the registration process for candidates.
Navalny’s camp is promoting a tactical voting ploy against the ruling party that amounts to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat United Russia in a given electoral district. Authorities have attempted to block the initiative online.
“One day we will live in a Russia where it will be possible to vote for good candidates with different political platforms,” Navalny ally Leonid Volkov wrote on Telegram messenger.
“And Navalny’s party will vie for a seat in parliament in fair and competitive elections. But for now, ‘smart voting’ is voting for Navalny.”
Since voting began on Friday, Google, Apple and Telegram messenger have limited some access to the tactical voting campaign, leading activists to accuse them of caving to pressure from the government. Apple and Google have not responded to the allegation.
The Central Election Commission reported voter turnout at 35.7 per cent as of 10am Moscow time on Sunday.
This is the last national vote before the 2024 presidential election. Putin, who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will run.
Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2021