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United Russia ahead as polls close in parliamentary elections

Russians have voted on the third and final day for a new parliament, a vote in which pro-Kremlin ruling party is expected to retain majority.

Voting has ended in Russia’s parliamentary election and the country’s elections commission says early results on Sunday from a limited number of polling stations show the country’s Kremlin-loyal United Russia party in the lead.

Results from nearly nine percent of the country’s polling stations give the United Russia party 38 percent of the vote for the 225 deputies apportioned by party lists, according to the commission. Another 225 will be chosen by individual races.

The fragmentary results leave it unclear whether the United Russia party, which firmly supports President Vladimir Putin, will retain its two-thirds majority in parliament that allows it to change the constitution.

The election is widely seen as an important part of Putin’s efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in which control of the State Duma, or parliament, will be key.

Russians across 11 time zones voted on the third and final day on Sunday with the polls marked by numerous reports of violations, including ballot-stuffing, inadequate security and pressure on election monitors.

The vote this year has seen most opposition politicians and activists barred from running as Russian authorities unleashed a massive effort to suppress protests and dissent.

The election lacked significant opposition presence after authorities declared organisations linked to imprisoned Alexey Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe, to be “extremist”.

By Sunday afternoon – the last of the three days of voting the government allowed this year, citing coronavirus concerns – voter turnout was only more than 40 percent and polls in Russia’s far east and Siberian regions had already closed.

Reports of violations from Russian media, opposition politicians and election observers have been flowing since Friday morning, when unexpectedly long lines formed at polling stations in Moscow and other cities.

Some of those queueing told reporters they were forced to vote by their employers, often a state-run institution.

Over the weekend, multiple videos of ballot-stuffing circled on social media. In some regions, incidents of “carousel voting” were reported – groups of voters casting ballots multiple times at different polling stations – as well as clashes between election monitors and poll workers.

Russia’s Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova confirmed at least eight incidents of ballot-stuffing in six Russian regions. In all, the commission has so far invalidated 7,465 ballots in 14 regions.

The United Russia party won just over 54 percent of the vote in 2016, the last time a parliamentary election was held. It has since faced a slump in its popularity due to malaise over years of faltering living standards.

Allies of Navalny had urged Russians to follow his tactical voting strategy, which amounts to supporting the candidate most likely to defeat United Russia in a given electoral district.

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