Russians vote in parliamentary election

Russians are heading to polling stations to elect representatives to the State Duma, though the prospect of significant change is small with almost all political parties supportive of the country’s President Vladimir Putin.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

A Russian man casts his ballot at a polling station in Moscow on September 18, 2016.

Russian citizens are heading to polling stations on Sunday to elect representatives to the Russian lower house, the State Duma.

There are around 4,500 candidates running across 14 political parties. About half of them are running as independents. Those elected to the Duma will hold their seats for the next five years.

A man looks at an election poster with portraits of candidates at a polling station during parliamentary elections in Moscow on September 18, 2016. (AFP)

A party needs to win 5 percent of the vote nationwide in order to qualify for entry into the parliament and 266 seats to win a majority.

Currently, there are four parties in the Duma. The main party is United Russia with 238 seats. It is headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev but was founded by President Vladimir Putin 15 years ago.

Russian Prime Minister and Chairman of the United Russia party Dmitry Medvedev and his wife Svetlana cast their ballots at a polling station during the parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia, September 18, 2016. (Reuters)

Each polling station will remain open from 8.00am to 8.00pm local time. Voting will last for about 22 hours to accomodate the fact that Russia extends from the Pacific Ocean in the far east to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea and spans 11 time zones.

For the first time in the history of the Russian Federation, people living in Crimea – which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 – will also be eligible to vote. This has angered the Ukrainian Government and Ukrainian nationalists, with reports emerging of scuffles breaking out after a group of people tried to stop Russian citizens voting at the Russian embassy in Kiev. 

People scuffle in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev on September 18, 2016. (Reuters)

Almost 110 million people are eligible to vote, but some opinion polls suggest the turnout might be low as many are apathetic. In the far eastern region of Kamchatka only 34 percent of voters cast ballots. 

Russia's last election was held in 2011 and was followed by mass protests over accusations of fraud. This time, however, no serious violations have been reported.

A new head of the central election commission has been appointed to prevent any vote-rigging accusations and observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have been allowed to monitor the vote.

Protesters gather together to protest against alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections on Sakharov avenue in Moscow, Russia, Dec. 24, 2011. (AP Archive)

Putin's grip on power

It is not thought the results of the election will bring any dramatic changes because the governing party United Russia is expected to become even more dominant in the State Duma. This indicates that public support for Putin is holding despite sanctions and a deep economic slowdown.

Since almost all of the poltical parties in the parliament are supportive of Putin, his grip on power is unlikely to loosen even if United Russia loses its majority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a polling station during a parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia, September 18, 2016. (Reuters)

Although Putin has said that it is too early to say if he will run for the presidency again, the election is being seen as a tryout for a possible presidential campaign in 2018. If he runs and wins, he will likely remain power until at least 2024.

TRTWorld and agencies