Russian President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party is set for another victory in the country’s parliamentary elections, despite a drop in support.
The ruling party claimed victory a few hours after the polls closed on Sunday evening.
Putin’s most vocal critics were barred from running in the election, and candidates who were allowed to stand were heavily vetted.
There have been numerous allegations of ballot stuffing and forced voting. But Russia’s electoral commission rejected such claims of widespread irregularities.
Initial results showed that with 80 per cent of votes counted, Putin’s party had grabbed around 50 per cent seats, followed by the Communist Party with about 20 per cent.
A senior United Russia official, Andrei Turchak, claimed his party would win more than 300 of the 450 seats in the State Duma.
The partial results show that despite United Russia easily retaining its majority in parliament, it did lose some ground. In 2016, the party had won 54 per cent of the vote.
The Communists, who broadly support Putin’s initiatives in the parliament, saw their support grow by 8 per cent. But their leader, Gennady Zyuganov, has alleged widespread violations, including ballot-stuffing, according to an international news agency.
Concerns over living standards and allegations of corruption from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have likely affected support for Putin’s party.
But he remains popular with many Russians who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride. The election witnessed 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.