Dirtiest election ever, says Gennady Zyuganov

Analysts have blamed the electoral setback of Russia's dominant party in Sunday's parliamentary election on the decision of the ruling tandem of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to switch jobs next year.

Mr. Putin's United Russia party has lost support for the first time since it was formed 10 years ago, receiving around 50 per cent of the votes compared with over 64 per cent four years ago.

“This loss of votes is the result of the decision made by Putin and Medvedev to ‘exchange their posts',” said Alexei Mukhin of the Political Information Centre thank tank.

Voters did not like the idea of the Kremlin duumvirate deciding between them the fate of presidency and appeared to be weary of Mr. Putin's return, said experts.

“Putin has made the political system fully dependent on his own charisma,” said commentator Alexander Rubtsov. “Once his charisma began to fade, United Russia has lost its appeal.”

The Kremlin has provoked uproar with its efforts to inflate the ruling party's support through vote rigging.

“It's the dirtiest election ever,” said Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov. “The vote lacked any legal or moral legitimacy. United Russia has suffered a crushing defeat but padded its result by 12 to 15 per cent.”

Opposition parties have vowed to take the authorities to court over election violations.

Golos, the only independent elections watchdog, came under an unprecedented attack from the Kremlin ahead of the vote, but has still compiled reports of more than 7,000 violations of election law.

Claims of vote fixing appeared to be borne out by voting patterns in regions, with United Russia receiving more than 90 per cent in Northern Caucasus, where the authorities had full control over the election process. In Moscow, the ruling party won 46 per cent of the votes, but only 32 per cent in Tushino, the only municipal district where electronic ballot scanning machines were used.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who headed the United Russia party list, has rejected allegations of vote rigging, telling his supporters that the election was “honest, fair and democratic.” He said the party was ready to enter into on-the-spot coalitions in the new Parliament to ensure the broadest possible support for its legislative initiatives.

“The lineup in the State Duma will reflect the actual balance of political forces in Russia,” Mr. Medvedev told supporters after the early results became known.

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Less party support inevitable: Putin

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin declared he was satisfied with his party’s performance in parliamentary election even though it lost a significant number of seats, saying that a drop in support was “inevitable” for any ruling party.

The statement came as authorities flooded Moscow with tens of thousands of security forces, hoping to prevent a repeat of the anti-vote fraud protest late on Monday that saw thousands marching and chanting “Russia without Putin!”

In neighbouring Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton again criticised the Russian election and urged that widespread reports of voting fraud be investigated.

Mr. Putin, however, said the ruling party had retained a “stable” majority.

“Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable,” he said. “They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country.”

Russian officials have denied any significant vote violations.

Anger against a heavy-handed state interference in the campaign in support of United Russia and evidence of vote fraud prompted thousands to march across downtown Moscow late Monday.

Police detained about 300 protesters in Moscow and 120 participants in a similar rally in St. Petersburg. One of the leaders, Ilya Yashin, who was among those arrested, was sentenced to 15 days in jail on Tuesday for disobeying police.

Security forces beefed up their presence across the capital on Tuesday to prevent any further protests. Moscow police said 51,500 Interior Ministry personnel were involved and it was all part of increased security for the election period.

The Russian election even drew criticism from one of Mr. Putin’s predecessors.

“There is no real democracy here and there won’t be any, if the government is afraid of the people,” former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Ms. Clinton criticised the Russian vote for a second straight day, saying on Tuesday that “Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation.”

Konstantin Kosachev, a senior United Russia member, described Ms. Clinton’s statement as “one of the darkest pages in the Russian-U.S. relations” and warned Washington against supporting the opposition.

Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by U.S. and European grants, came under heavy official pressure ahead of Sunday’s vote after Mr. Putin likened Russian recipients of foreign support to Judas. Golos’ website was incapacitated by hackers on the voting day, and its director Lilya Shibanova and her deputy had their cell phone numbers, email and social media accounts hacked.

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