Russia election: Putin’s party heads for victory amid vote fraud claims

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Intl desk, Sept 20: President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party looks set for a majority in the country’s parliamentary election, after a vote dogged by allegations of fraud.

An exit poll predicted a resounding victory for the ruling party.

The Kremlin’s most vocal critics were barred from running in the election, and there have been numerous reports of ballot stuffing and forced voting, BBC reported.

The election commission rejected the claims.

In its initial set of results, the commission said that with 25% of votes counted, United Russia had received more than 44% of the vote.

An exit poll conducted by Insomar and published by Russia’s Ria news agency predicted that the party would win just over 45% of the vote.

United Russia claimed victory a few hours after the polls closed on Sunday evening.

A state television broadcast showed a senior United Russia official, Andrei Turchak, congratulating a crowd of supporters in Moscow on what he described as a clean and honest victory.

Voters were electing 450 MPs for the Duma (parliament) in Moscow. A total of 14 parties took part in the vote.

The election saw a number of cities introduce electronic voting.

For the first time since 1993, election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were not present due to limitations imposed by Russian authorities.

As of Sunday evening, independent vote monitoring group Golos – which the Russian authorities have branded “a foreign agent” – said it had tracked more than 4,500 reports of voting violations.

Russia’s interior ministry meanwhile told reporters that it had not registered any “significant violations”.

During the election, long queues were seen outside some polling stations on videos published on social media.

Interfax news agency reported that this was especially the case outside police stations. The Kremlin spokesman rejected claims that it was an indication of people being put under pressure to vote.

But Golos said it had received “numerous messages” from people who said they were being forced by their employers to vote, as well as allegations of electoral fraud.

In parts of east Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists, residents with Russian citizenship were allowed to vote, with some crossing the border to visit Russian polling stations.

There has also been anger after a Smart Voting app devised by jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was removed from Apple and Google stores on the day that Russians started voting.

Russian authorities had threatened the two companies with big fines if they refused to drop the app, which told users who could unseat ruling party candidates.

Navalny ally Leonid Volkov accused the tech giants of having “caved under the Kremlin’s blackmail”.