Russians vote amid signs ruling party's dominance is slipping
REPORTING FROM MOSCOW — Russians went to the polls Sunday to choose lawmakers amid accusations of election fraud and signs that the ruling United Russia faction could see its overwhelming majority in parliament shrink or even disappear.
Polls before the election showed the faction of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev would receive 53% of the vote, which would cause it to lose ground in the 450-member lower house of parliament, where until now it held 315 seats.
On Sunday, exit polls cited by Russian state television showed United Russia with less than 50% of the vote, but it was not immediately clear how reliable the figures were. Even if the party receives less than 50% of the overall vote, it could still win a majority of seats.
Initial results were expected early Monday.
Putin, who has already signaled that he will run for president next year, voted at a polling station in downtown Moscow and predicted “a good result for United Russia.”
Yuri Gudkov, a lawmaker and member of the Just Russia party, accused the Kremlin of voting fraud and ballot stuffing. Former allies, Just Russia and United Russia are now bitter opponents.
“Today we caught red-handed a deputy head of a Moscow polling station in an attempt to stuff 42 ballot papers all marked in favor of United Russia,” he said. “At another station we discovered a whole ballot box filled with pro-United Russia ballots ahead of the voting.”
The accusations of voting fraud were echoed by Golos, a private group that monitors campaign irregularities and violations.
“We know already of several thousand documented and proven cases of campaign violations and gross abuse of administrative resource on all levels in favor of United Russia,” said Grigory Melkonyan, deputy head of Golos, a private group that monitors campaign irregularities and violations.
“Regional and local officials all across the country apply pressure on companies and labor collectives, whose managers in their turn promise perks and bonuses to those who votes for the ruling party, demanding that they produce a photo of the ballot paper filled in the correct way, or simply threaten that they have a way to find out how their subordinates vote,” Melkonyan said.
— Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Election officials count votes at a polling station in Moscow on Sunday. Credit: Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP / Getty Images