Pro-Putin party loses ground in Russian election, on track to retain strong parliamentary majority

Three days of voting in Russian parliamentary elections ended Sunday, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party claimed victory Sunday evening, a few hours after the polls closed. With about 95 percent of the vote counted, United Russia had just under 50 percent of the votes, followed by the Communist Party, with about 20 percent. In the 2016 election, United Russia got 54 percent of the vote.

Most true opposition parties and politicians were banned from participating in the election, and cameras captured blatant episodes of ballot-stuffing in some precincts.

Michael McFaul , the former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, was unimpressed with United Russia's numbers.

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But the real prize for Putin would be if United Russia gets a supermajority of at least 300 seats in the 450-seat Duma, or lower house. Top United Russia official Andrei Turchak predicted Monday that his party will get 315 seats.

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his anti-corruption network were effectively barred from participating in the election, but he and his allies worked to undermine Putin by recommending strategic voting for candidates who could beat the United Russia contender. This often meant backing the Communist Party, even though it is usually suports the Kremlin's legislation. Apple and Google took Navalny's Smart Voter app off their mobile stores Friday, under hard pressure from the Kremlin.

The Communist Party was among those complaining of ballot-stuffing and other voting irregularities. "Fears of manipulations mounted on Monday morning, as the results of online voting in Moscow — where approvals of the ruling party have always been particularly low and protest voting has been widespread — were still not released to the public," The Associated Press reports. "The results in the other six regions have been released. Nearly 2 million votes have been cast online in Moscow."

The independent vote monitoring group Golos said it had received more than 4,500 reports of voting violations as of Sunday evening. But the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) did not monitor Russia's election for the first time since 1993, because Russian authorities placed restriction on the election observers.

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