Putin’s party suffers poll blow as Communists soar

Putin’s party suffers poll blow as Communists soar

Putin’s party suffers poll blow as Communists soar

A Russian Communist Party supporter carries a portrait of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. The Communist Party appeared to benefit most from the elections, with almost complete results predicting it would get nearly 20 percent, up from 12 percent.

The ruling party of Vladimir Putin won Russia’s parliamentary elections but with a sharply reduced majority, in a blow for the Russian strongman ahead of his planned return to the Kremlin in 2012.

Putin’s United Russia won 49.5 percent of the votes, compared with 64 percent support four years ago, and enough to take up 238 of the 450 seats in the State Duma lower house, down from 315, almost complete results and projections showed.

Medvedev said United Russia, which had previously held a two thirds majority allowing it to change the constitution without opposition support, was prepared to forge alliances on certain issues to secure backing for legislation. “This is an optimal result which reflects the real situation in the country. Based on this result we can guarantee stable development of our country,” Putin said in a terse speech standing alongside President Dmitry Medvedev at his party’s campaign headquarters.

Its biggest opposition will be the Communist Party with 92 seats, up from 57, followed by the A Just Russia party with 64 seats, up from 38, and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party with 56 mandates, up from 40. “Russia has a new political reality even if they rewrite everything,” said Sergei Obukhov, a Communist lawmaker. Many of the votes were cast in protest against United Russia rather than in support of communist ideals because the Party is seen by some Russians as the only credible opposition force.

Putin, who has dominated Russia since 2000, is serving a four-year stint as prime minister after handing over the Kremlin in 2008 to his protege Medvedev. Medvedev is set to step aside and become prime minister, in a job swap that the two men hope will determine Russia’s political future and stability for years to come.

Strong public frustration

Some opposition politicians and election monitors said even a result of around 50 percent for Putin’s United Russia party was inflated, alleging ballot-stuffing and other significant violations at the polls.

Critics say Dec. 4’s vote badly dented his carefully groomed image. It reflected a strong public frustration with the lack of political competition, ubiquitous official corruption and the gap between rich and poor, which will pose a growing challenge to Putin’s power.

United Russia has been seen increasingly as the party of corrupt officials, and its description as a “party of crooks and thieves” has stuck, flashing up as the first suggestion on Russia’s top web search engine. Putin sought to stem a quick decline in United Russia’s popularity by trying to expand its support base with a so-called Popular Front, an umbrella group for unions, professional associations, veteran groups and others but the effort has brought no visible result.

“Who could have thought three days ago that, even with a distorted result, (United Russia) would poll less than 50 percent,” wrote top anti-corruption blogger and anti-Kremlin activist Alexei Navalny. “I congratulate you all, we’ve done something great.” A string of news websites that do not toe the Kremlin line were down for election day Dec. 4, including Moscow Echo, the Kommersant newspaper and The New Times magazine in an apparent mass cyber attack.

The nation’s only independent election watchdog has been also subjected to a massive official intimidation campaign in the week before the vote and saw its website blocked by what it described as a massive cyber attack it blamed on authorities.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said after the vote that Putin’s “honeymoon” with the nation was over. “He needs to hold an honest presidential election and allow opposition candidates to register for the race, if he doesn’t want to be booed from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad,” Nemtsov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Also, around 200 people were detained in central Moscow as radical opposition supporters and nationalists rallied against the conduct of Russia’s parliamentary elections, city police said. Police detained opposition supporters and a radical opposition leader as they rallied in central Moscow on Dec. 4 evening with the slogan “Elections without an opposition are a crime.”

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.