Early results on Sunday showed Russia’s ruling United Russia party winning in the parliamentary election, amid reports of election violations and visible voter apathy in the country’s two largest cities.
Less than 7% of the ballots were counted by the evening, showing United Russia getting about 44% of the vote, with the Liberal Democrat Party trailing with 18% of the vote.
The results are likely to change as votes in the west of Russia are counted.
Russian Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova said as the polls closed that she had no reason to nullify the vote in any location, conceding, however, that the election “wasn’t sterile”.
The voting for the 450-seat State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is unlikely to substantially change the distribution of power, in which the pro-Kremlin United Russia party holds an absolute majority.
But the perceived honesty of the election could be a critical factor in whether protests arise following the voting.
Massive demonstrations broke out in Moscow after the last Duma election in 2011, unsettling authorities with their size and persistence.
Voter turnout in Russia’s largest cities appeared to be much lower than five years ago, indicating that the widespread practice of coercing state employees to vote in previous elections was not as prevalent this time around.
The turnout by 6pm in Moscow was at a record low of 29% compared with more than 50% five years earlier, and less than 20% in St Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.
Previous elections have shown that the regions with the highest turnout were where voters, mostly state employees, were pressured to cast ballots.
Grigory Melkonyants, co-chairman of the election monitoring group Golos, attributed the weak showing on Sunday to voter apathy aided by almost invisible campaigning by the ruling party and the opposition alike.
Melkonyants said on the Dozhd online television station that it also reflected less anxiety among local authorities to produce a high turnout.
Golos had received more than 2,000 complaints of suspected vote rigging from all over the country by early afternoon.
Among the potential violations he cited were long lines of soldiers voting at stations where they were not registered, and voters casting their ballots on tables instead of curtained-off voting booths.
A video posted on YouTube appeared to show a poll worker in the southern Rostov region dropping multiple sheets of paper into a ballot box.
On Sunday morning, Pamfilova said results from voting in a Siberian region could be annulled if allegations of vote fraud there were confirmed.
A candidate from the liberal Yabloko party in the Altai region of Siberia told state news agency Tass that young people were voting in the name of elderly people unlikely to go to polling stations.
Independent election observers and opposition candidates on Sunday reported busloads of people arriving at their polling stations in Moscow to vote, fuelling speculations of multiple voting with the help of absentee ballots.
Deputy interior minister Alexander Gorovoy said in televised comments that police are looking into the potential of fraud in both Altai and in Rostov, but said he had not seen “the actual facts of the so-called cruise voting”.