Russians voted in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary election that the governing party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from the ballot.
The expected win by the United Russia party in Sunday’s polls will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs Russia’s 68-year-old leader faces a rating slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot – the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party – which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three-quarters of the State Duma’s 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.
“If United Russia manages [to win], our country can expect another five years of poverty, five years of repressions, five lost years,” ran a message to supporters on Navalny’s blog this week.
Navalny’s allies were barred from running after his movement was banned in June as “extremist”. Other opposition figures allege they were targeted with dirty tricks campaigns or not allowed to compete.
A Communist strawberry tycoon said he was unfairly barred, while a liberal opposition politician in St Petersburg said two identically named “spoiler” candidates are running against him to confuse his voters.
Moscow denies claims
The Kremlin denies a politically driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law. Both it and United Russia deny any role in the registration process for candidates.
Navalny’s camp is promoting a tactical voting ploy against United Russia that authorities want blocked online. Since voting began on Friday, Google, Apple and Telegram messenger have limited some access to the campaign on their platforms. Activists accuse them of caving in to pressure.
The election runs until 18:00 GMT on Sunday when polling stations close in the European exclave of Kaliningrad. It is the last national vote before the 2024 presidential election. Putin, who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will run.
In Moscow, Navalny’s tactical voting campaign recommended supporters vote for politicians such as the Communist Party’s Mikhail Lobanov. He said he welcomed the Navalny campaign and criticised United Russia.