In Russia Election Results, Online Votes Sweep Putin Opponents Aside
MOSCOW — Russia’s governing party has retained a two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament and claimed a sweeping victory in opposition-minded Moscow — a stark display of Kremlin power as the authorities on Monday announced the results of a nationwide election that opposition leaders denounced as blatantly falsified.Partial results released after the polls closed on Sunday evening had shown significant gains by opposition parties and potential victories by several candidates supported by the imprisoned opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny. But by the time Russia’s Central Election Commission revealed a nearly full count on Monday, those gains were largely gone — prompting anger from Kremlin critics, claims of large-scale fraud and a small protest in central Moscow.Russian elections are not free and fair, and the country’s best-known opposition figures were barred from the ballot, jailed or exiled in the months before a three-day vote that ended on Sunday. But Mr. Navalny’s allies had hoped to use a coordinated protest vote in the election to deliver a rebuke to President Vladimir V. Putin.The focal point of the opposition’s anger on Monday was Moscow, the Russian capital, a stronghold of anti-Kremlin sentiment where the government had urged voters to cast their ballots online. Challengers to the governing party, United Russia, led in several electoral districts before the results of online voting were tabulated, with a delay. Soon after, the election commission declared the pro-Kremlin candidate the victor in each of those districts.As a result, United Russia swept to a dominant performance and kept its two-thirds “supermajority” in the lower house of Parliament, the Duma — all despite recording approval ratings below 30 percent in recent polls published by state-run research groups. The party received 50 percent of the vote with 52 percent turnout, and it won 198 of the 225 seats apportioned in direct, single-district elections.“We’ve never had a voting process that we didn’t know anything about,” Roman Udot, a co-head of Golos, an independent election monitoring group, said of Moscow’s online voting system. “There’s some kind of big, big skeleton in the closet here.”An official in the Moscow city government explained the delay in the tabulation of online votes by pointing to a “decoding” process that took “considerably longer than we had expected,” the Interfax news agency reported. Kremlin critics had warned for weeks that online voting could open up new avenues for fraud, since the tabulation process was even less transparent than the counting of paper ballots.Mr. Navalny said in a social media message from prison that the delay in releasing online voting results had allowed “the deft little hands” of United Russia officials to “fake the results to the exact opposite.” The Communist Party, which came in second nationwide and in several of the disputed district-level races in the capital, said it would not recognize the online voting results in Moscow.But it was not clear what, if anything, critics of the outcome could do about the situation. The judiciary is under the thumb of the Kremlin, while prominent opposition figures are exiled or behind bars. Street protests are increasingly punished by jail terms.In all, the outcome further demonstrated Mr. Putin’s strengthening lock on political life — and served, perhaps, as a dress rehearsal for the presidential election of 2024, in which he could seek a fifth term.“For the president, the main thing was and remains the competitiveness, openness and honesty of the elections,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Monday. “We, of course, assess the electoral process very, very positively.”In Pushkin Square in central Moscow on a cold and blustery evening, the police allowed a gathering of a few hundred people protesting the election results to proceed. There were chants of “Russia without Putin!” and “Shame!” and promises of further gatherings in the coming days. But it was a far cry from the thousands who rallied for Mr. Navalny last winter — or the tens of thousands who took to the streets to condemn fraud in the parliamentary elections of 2011.“Many people aren’t going to come together, not like in 2011,” said one protester, Aleksandr Gorelov, 51. “People got scared.”He brought a small sign to the rally: “Thank you for coming.”Leonid Volkov, a top aide to Mr. Navalny who has been trying to coordinate opposition votes from exile, stopped short of urging people out into the streets but said that he and his colleagues would support “any peaceful protest actions” that could help overturn the results.“The Kremlin took this step because it was certain it could get away with it,” Mr. Volkov said in a post on the messaging app Telegram. “Putin decided that he need not be afraid of the street. Whether or not he’s right — we’ll find out.”Several analysts, however, said they did not expect major protests — both because of the increased risk of arrest and because many Russians prefer Mr. Putin, however imperfect, to the instability that they fear could follow. Tatiana Stanovaya, a nonresident scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said a further crackdown on dissent could be looming.Last week, the Kremlin successfully coerced Apple and Google into removing an app designed by Mr. Navalny’s team from their stores in Russia, showing the government’s ability to limit free speech online without blocking popular platforms entirely.“After the elections,” Ms. Stanovaya said, “the repressions could even accelerate.”Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.