Election observers have weighed in on Russia's parliamentary election, saying the vote fell short of being free and fair.
The election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europe's rights and security watchdog, said Sunday's election for seats in the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, was "transparently administered," but that "challenges to democratic commitments remain."
Ilkka Kanerva, a Finnish parliamentarian who headed the OSCE's election monitoring mission, told reporters in Moscow on Monday that election day "generally proceeded in an orderly manner," but that "numerous procedural irregularities were noted during counting."
People visit a polling station during a parliamentary election in Stavropol, Russia, Sept. 18, 2016.
Russia's electoral environment, he added, was "negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society."
"The improved transparency and trust we have seen in the election administration are important steps, yet legal restrictions on basic rights continue to be a problem," Kanerva said.
With more than 99 percent of the ballots from Sunday's election counted, President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party has more than 54 percent of the vote, with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation trailing with about 13 percent each, and A Just Russia with 6 percent. Voter turnout was slightly less than 48 percent.
Russia's only independent grass-roots election monitoring group, Golos, said in a report released Monday that the State Duma election showed, among other things, that the procedure for forming the country's regional election commissions "did not ensure their independence," that government officials routinely interfered in the work of the election commissions, and that "the fundamental principle of equality" was violated throughout the election campaign.
Russian President Vladimir Putin casts a ballot at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Moscow, Sept. 18, 2016.
Golos also said it had received reports of ballot stuffing on election day from 19 different Russian regions, along with numerous reports from Moscow of violations involving absentee ballots.
The voting watchdog concluded that this year's State Duma election was "far from what can be called truly free and fair."
Videos said to show instances of ballot stuffing during Sunday's voting have been posted on various social media and websites.
Putin praised the results of the State Duma election, saying Monday that they showed "how our citizens reacted to attempts at external pressure on Russia, threats of sanctions, attempts to destabilize the situation in our country from within."