Pro-Putin party wins big in Russian elections

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party has taken three-fourths of the seats in the country's legislature, a huge gain for a party that already holds a strong majority.

Ekaterina Shtukina/Sputnik/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister and Chairman of the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev visit the party's campaign headquarters following a parliamentary election in Moscow on Sunday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's party just gained even more power.

In the Russian national parliamentary elections Sunday, the United Russia party won three-quarters of the seats, enough to amend the constitution on its own. 

With 93 percent of the votes counted, the party was set to take 343 of the 450 seats in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, according to the Central Elections Commission. 

The United Russia party already held the majority in the previous parliament, but added more than 100 more seats with Sunday's election. Three other parties that had been in the previous parliament also were on track to win seats, although markedly fewer. The Communists were set to pick up 42, down from 92. The Liberal Democrats 39, and A Just Russia 23, according to the Associated Press. 

Mr. Putin is not officially a member of the United Russia party, although he founded it nearly 16 years ago after first taking presidential office.

These numbers suggest "an impressive vote of confidence" for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, Putin's spokesman told reporters. 

Putin, who has alternated between the offices of prime minister and president since 2000, is expected to run for a fourth term as president in 2018, although he has yet to announce his candidacy. If re-elected, Putin would surpass Leonid Brezhnev's 18 years in power, who was the longest-serving Soviet leader after Joseph Stalin, who ruled the country for 30 years. The longest-reigning Russian leader was Ivan the Terrible, who ruled as Tsar of All the Russias for 37 years.

Voter turnout had dropped from the last Duma election in 2011. Then, turnout was 60 percent nationwide, but with this election that number was less than 48 percent. Still, Putin called the turnout "high."

Sunday's election was not without controversy. Reports surfaced suggesting the notoriously rigged elections had not ceased, despite Russian Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova's pledge to clean up the system. She admitted that the election "wasn't sterile."

Complaints of violations came from across the country. Some independent election observers and opposition candidates reported seeing busloads of people arriving at polling stations and soldiers were seen voting at stations where they weren't registered, fueling suspicions that people were voting multiple times.

Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the election monitoring group Golos, said the busloads of people may not be a violation, "But observers perceive it as a trick which local officials could be using in order to boost the turnout in their districts," he told the Associated Press.

Videos posted on YouTube also seemed to show poll workers in some stations stuffing multiple ballots into a ballot box. 

Large protests broke out after the last Duma election, in 2011, rising from anger over such apparent ballot-rigging.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.

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