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Russians Vote in Final Day of Elections with Allegations of Irregularities 

A woman casts her ballots at a polling station on the last day of three-day long parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 19, 2021.
A woman casts her ballots at a polling station on the last day of three-day long parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Sept. 19, 2021.

Russians vote on Sunday in the final day of three-day parliamentary elections marred by allegations of widespread irregularities and a fresh crackdown on jailed opposition politician Alexey Navalny’s movement.

The ruling Kremlin-backed United Russia party is expected to win the parliamentary vote, following a clampdown by authorities on dissent that eliminated vocal critics from the ballot and crushed independent media.

But the party that backs President Vladimir Putin could be at risk of losing its supermajority in parliament, with polls before the election showing its popularity dwindling to around 30 percent.

United Russia’s current three-quarters majority in the 450-seat State Duma gives the party sweeping powers, including the ability to change the constitution as it did last year to allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024.

The Communists, the second strongest party, are in a position to gain the most seats at the expense of United Russia.

The Communists retain a strong following among older Russians but may get an extra boost from supporters of Navalny this time around.

FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 20, 2021.
FILE - Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 20, 2021.

Navalny’s strategy is staked on his Smart Voting initiative — a tool promoted as a way for voters opposed to Putin to identify candidates who have the best chance to defeat a United Russia candidate so as not to split the opposition.

Most of the candidates identified by the initiative are from the Communist Party, even though it and two other parties in the Duma rarely vote against majority initiatives or those explicitly lobbied for by the Kremlin.

"If the United Russia party succeeds, our country will face another five years of poverty, five years of daily repression, and five wasted years," a message on Navalny's Instagram account read on the eve of the elections.

In recent months, authorities have unleashed a sweeping crackdown against Navalny’s political network, designating it an "extremist organization" and barring the politician's allies from participating in elections.

As the vote kicked off on September 17, the election-guide app disappeared from the Apple and Google online stores in what Navalny’s associates slammed as censorship and bowing to pressure from the Kremlin.

Mass voting of state workers

Popular messaging app Telegram, one of the main avenues Navalny’s team used to get out its messaging, also removed a Smart Voting bot. Telegram founder Pavel Durov said he was proud millions of Russians had access to Smart Voting through the service, but that election-related bots were being removed to be in line with Russia's ban on campaigning during voting.

Then late on July 18, Navalny's team said YouTube had also taken down one of their videos that contained the names of candidates they had endorsed.

The vote, which is being held alongside elections for regional governors and local legislative assemblies, has taken place against allegations of widespread irregularities.

On the first day of the election, there were unusually long lines at polling stations, in what the Golos independent election-monitoring group suggested was the ruling party forcing state workers and military personnel to vote.

Stanislav Andreychuk, co-chairman of Golos, told Current Time that it appeared state employees were coerced into voting while they were at work, even if that meant not casting a ballot where they were registered.

"We understand that when such a mobilization takes place, it is a mobilization among those groups of voters who, in the opinion of the authorities, are most loyal to them," he said.

"The authorities must first get these people to vote, while on the other hand try to demobilize all opponents so that they do not appear at the polling stations," he said.

But despite possible forced voting, overall turnout at polling stations was only 35.7 percent as of 10 a.m. Moscow time on September 19, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said.

Navalny's team has called on voters to cast ballots on the last day to reduce the chance their votes are not discarded during the first two days of voting.

Authorities said they spread the election over three days to prevent crowding because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but critics say the long voting period offers ample opportunities for manipulation and engineering a desired outcome.

In St. Petersburg, an independent election-monitoring group reported that a candidate from the opposition Yabloko party was beaten by police officers at the polling station No. 1459 on September 19.

Nikita Sorokin, who is running for the local legislative assembly, had called police earlier, claiming that between 200 and 300 unused ballots suspiciously disappeared at the polling station, Nablyudateli Peterburga (Petersburg Monitors) said.

A video shared by activists seems to show at least three officers manhandling Sorokin, while several other monitors are being forcibly removed from the site.

On the first day of voting, Golos recorded some 2,000 procedural violations indicating votes were being bought. It also reported violations of lax measures for guarding ballots at polling stations, people voting multiple times, as well as dozens of reported incidents of ballot stuffing.

The head of the Communist Party also alleged on September 18 widespread violations in the election. Gennady Zyuganov said the CEC must respond to reports of “a number of absolutely egregious facts,” including ballot-stuffing in several regions.

Ella Pamfilova, head of the CEC, said 6,203 ballots had been deemed invalid in five entities of the Russian Federation because of irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing in the Bryansk region, poor quality of ballots in Mordovia, and incorrect registrations in Moscow.

The election runs until 18:00 GMT on September 19 when polling stations close in the European exclave of Kaliningrad. Preliminary results are expected shortly after polls close.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, Current Time, AP, and Reuters