epa05546662 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (2-L) speaks to voters after parliament elections in Moscow, Russia, 18 September 2016. Early results indicated that the ruling United Russia party was leading with 44.5 percent in the parliamentary elections. Voters were called to elect a new State Duma, the 450-seat lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia. EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev meets voters © EPA

Russia’s ruling party has tightened its control of the Duma after parliamentary elections on Sunday were marred by irregularities and the lowest turnout in president Vladimir Putin’s 17 years in power.

With more than 93 per cent of the vote counted, figures from the Central Election Commission on Monday showed that United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, had secured 54.1 per cent of votes for party lists and bagged 203 of the 255 seats allocated through single-member constituencies. That would give the party 76 per cent of the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, up from the 53 per cent it holds now.

The results are a massive victory for Mr Putin and the Kremlin’s “political technologists”, the spin-doctors who tweaked the electoral system following street protests over fraud at the last Duma election five years ago.

Moscow’s decision to bring the election forward from December meant that many voters particularly in large urban areas who tend to be more critical of United Russia stayed at their summer houses instead of going to the polls, while pensioners, civil servants and state company staff could be mobilised. Heavy gerrymandering which added rural voters into almost every urban constituency reduced the influence of urban middle class voters critical of Mr Putin.

“The people understood that these were elections without choice,” said Leonid Volkov, an opposition politician close to opposition leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny. “So according to preliminary data, 84 per cent of Russian voters did not vote for Putin’s party.”

The Communist party, the nationalist Liberal Democrats and the centre-left A Just Russia, which are represented in the lower house of parliament now, will return according to the preliminary results. “Unfortunately, not one of the other parties managed to overcome the 5 per cent hurdle,” said Ella Pamfilova, chairperson of the Central Election Commission.

Independent election observers and opposition candidates reported violations of voting rules such as ballot stuffing, busing in of migrant workers or soldiers for voting in several districts. Online video transmissions from polling stations in Rostov and Dagestan showed people shoving heaps of ballots into ballot boxes.

But on Monday Ms Pamfilova rejected accusations of “massive” irregularities. She said certain complaints about violations in Dagestan could not be confirmed, but added that results from some polling stations in the Rostov region and Nizhny Novgorod region might be declared invalid because of irregularities.

Turnout was only 47 per cent, more than 13 percentage points down from the 2011 polls. But it varied widely: Many districts in Moscow, St Petersburg and other regions, where support for United Russia is traditionally lower, registered turnouts around or below 30 per cent, while regions with high support for the ruling party, especially in the North Caucasus, had turnout figures up to 70 per cent.

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