Vladimir Putin on Monday thanked the Russian people for their ‘trust’ after his party defied polls to win a landslide in an parliamentary election marred by allegations of rampant fraud.
Opposition politicians called for protests after they saw large poll leads disappear when last-minute electronic votes landed overwhelmingly in favour of Vladimir Putin.
The Russian president paid tribute to his “dear friends” after winning just under 50 per cent of the vote. That was significantly above early polling, which showed United Russia on as little as 15 per cent in the capital Moscow.
The Communist Party, which has traditionally been a meek presence in Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament, demanded an investigation of allegations of fraud after coming second with 20 per cent of the vote.
Mr Putin’s party clung on to its supermajority in parliament, allowing it to pass controversial constitutional reforms including removing term limits, after an unexpectedly strong showing in single-mandate districts.
Britain and the US queried the integrity of the vote, with the Foreign Office saying in a statement it marked a “serious step back” for democratic freedoms.
The Kremlin denied allegations of fraud, saying Mr Putin viewed the vote as “competitive, open and fair.”
Anti-Putin candidates backed by jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Voting” campaign were leading in 12 out of Moscow’s 15 constituencies with 90 per cent of the vote counted on Monday morning. But two million e-votes flipped the results on their head.
In a message passed on via his lawyer, Mr Navalny mocked officials for delaying the announcement of the results for several hours so United Russia could “forge the results”.
Mikhail Lobanov, a university lecturer and one of the most promising opposition candidates in Moscow, was beating a pro-government TV host by 20,000 votes before e-voting returns came in, adding enough votes to tip the scales in the Kremlin’s favour.
Mr Lobanov, who was nominated by the Communists, urged Muscovites and other opposition candidates to protest against the result.
“The difference between the returns from regular polling stations and where people voted online is enormous,” he told the Telegraph.
“We saw a strong lead in results at all polling stations, and we’re sure of this result.”
However, on Monday evening only a few hundred people had gathered to protest in central Moscow, braving wet weather and a heavy police presence.
“Results of the e-voting are outrageous: that’s the reason why I’m here. I think every Muscovite should take to the streets now and think about why they went to vote,” said Maria Sboyeva, 26.
St Petersburg, Russia’s former imperial capital, saw some of the most daring examples of alleged election fraud as polling stations closed on Sunday.
Riot police was called in to several polling stations, leaving the vote count without independent observers. At one polling station, election monitors said they caught the local election board changing the returns for two candidates in favour of the Kremlin nominee before they were filed to a higher election commission.
At another precinct, four men were caught on camera pushing over the ballot box, spilling the votes onto the floor, in an apparent attempt to derail the vote count there.
Irina Fatyanova, an ally of Alexei Navalny who coordinated election monitoring across the city, said yesterday/MON that the election fraud her team witnessed team was unprecedented.
“I was horrified by what I saw in my district: I never came across anything like that although I knew it was possible,” Ms Fatyanova told the TV Rain channel on Monday morning. “Protocols on election returns were written from scratch in front of the observers. This was going on all night.”
Ella Pamfilova, the top Russian election official, said they have examined the reports and expect the results at up to seven polling stations to be scrapped.
Golos, Russia’s most prominent association of election observers, in a preliminary report released on Monday afternoon said that it “could not declare these elections free”Internet Explorer Channel Network