Parliamentary elections in Russia appear to have delivered a setback to Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, in a vote the opposition says was tainted by fraud. United Russia suffered a big drop in support in a parliamentary election as voters signalled their growing unease with Mr Putin’s domination of Russian politics before a planned return to the presidency next year.
Exit polls suggested United Russia would win between 45.5 and 48.5 per cent of the votes in the election to the lower house of parliament, the Duma, compared with 64.3 per cent in 2007, and that it could struggle even to hold on to a majority in the chamber. The vote was widely seen as a test of Mr Putin’s personal authority after signs that Russians have started to tire of his tough-guy image.
“Russia has a new political reality even if they rewrite everything,” said Sergei Obukhov, a parliamentary deputy of the Communist Party, which made considerable gains, its vote almost doubling to around 20 per cent, according to the exit poll. A United Russia leader, Boris Gryzlov, looked stunned when he addressed reporters after voting ended but claimed victory. “We are watching and hope that we shall get a majority of the mandate in the State Duma,” he said. “We can say that United Russia remains the ruling party.”
But there can be little to cheer Mr Putin, who has dominated Russian politics since becoming president in 2000 and serving in the post until 2008. In that year he was obliged to step down, the constitution preventing him serving more than two consecutive terms. The exit poll did not make clear how the 450 seats in the Duma would be shared out under complicated calculations. But one poll projected United Russia, which has dominated the chamber since 2003, would have only 220 seats. The Communist Party emerged in second place in both polls with considerable gains over 2007.
Russia United has borne special responsibility in this complex period for both shortcomings and successes. “United Russia has lost touch with reality,” said a 30-year-old history teacher in St Petersburg who gave his name only as Alexander. Despite the electoral pain, Mr Putin is still almost certain to win the March 4 presidential election and could extend his rule until 2024 if he wins the maximum two more terms.
Speaking after the polls were released, Mr Putin said most Russians still back his party. “Russia United has borne special responsibility for this complex period for both shortcomings and successes,” he said. “And despite these difficulties and the responsibility which Russia United has to bear, people – our voters, our citizens – have secured for it the status of the country’s leading political party.”