Russia’s ruling United Russia party was on course to secure a comfortable victory in a three-day parliamentary election despite losing some ground to its opponents, early results and an exit poll showed on Sunday.
With nearly 13% of ballots counted, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won just over 40% of the vote.
Separately, an exit poll conducted by INSOMAR and published by Russia’s RIA news agency predicted United Russia would win a little over 45% of the vote.
Though that would amount to an emphatic win, it would be a weaker result than the last time a parliamentary election was held in 2016, when the party won just over 54% of the vote.
United Russia has faced a slump in its popularity due to malaise over years of faltering living standards and allegations of corruption from jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny which it denies. It was also contending with a tactical voting campaign organised by Navalny’s allies.
Initial results showed the Communist Party finishing in second place with around 24% of the vote, followed by the nationalist LDPR party with around 9%. Both parties usually back the Kremlin on key issues.
Kremlin critics say the vote is a sham, given a pre-election crackdown which outlawed Navalny’s movement, barred his allies from running, and targeted critical media and non-governmental organisations which the authorities regarded as hostile.
However, United Russia’s expected win is likely to be used by the Kremlin as proof of widespread support for Putin, who has been in power as either president or prime minister since 1999 and remains a popular figure with many Russians who credit him with standing up to the West and restoring national pride.