MOSCOW, Dec 5 – The ruling party of Vladimir Putin Monday won Russia’s parliamentary elections but with a sharply reduced majority, in a blow for the Russian strongman ahead of his planned return to the Kremlin in 2012.,
United Russia is set to obtain 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma, down sharply from the 315 seats it won in the last polls in 2007, election commission chief Vladimir Churov told reporters citing results from 96 percent of polling stations.
The ruling party won 49.54 percent of the vote, the results showed, after Sunday’s elections that the opposition said were shadowed by mass violations as United Russia sought to maintain dominance. In 2007, it won over 64 percent.
The results mean that while United Russia has narrowly held onto an absolute majority in the State Duma it has lost the so-called constitutional majority of two-thirds required to pass any changes to the constitution.
Its biggest opposition will be the Communist Party with 92 seats, followed by the A Just Russia party with 64 seats and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party with 56 mandates.
“The ruling power will have to look for partners,” said Kommersant broadsheet on Monday, while Vedomosti business daily acidly called United Russia “the minority party.”
Putin sought to put a brave face on the polling results late on Sunday, saying they reflected the state of affairs in the country.
“Based on these results, we will be able to ensure the stable development of our country,” he said in a terse speech standing alongside President Dmitry Medvedev at United Russia campaign headquarters.
Medvedev conceded United Russia would have to share power and “enter into coalition agreements,” saying the election results showed Russian “democracy in action.” He rejected the claims of foul play by the authorities.
The ruling party’s relatively poor showing comes after Putin announced in September he planned to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March presidential polls, despite signs Russians may be growing disillusioned with his 11-year rule.
Putin, who has dominated Russia since 2000, is widely expected to win back his old Kremlin job after his four-year stint as prime minister.
His protege Medvedev is set to step aside and become prime minister, in a job swap that the two men hope will determine Russia’s political future and stability for years to come.
“The authorities are losing trust — it’s a new situation for them,” said Sergei Lukashevsky, head of the Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Center. “The regime’s ideology is exhausting itself.”
Nevertheless, United Russia remains by far the most popular party in Russia. The Communist Party came in second with 19.6 percent, up from 12 percent it received in 2007.
The populist A Just Russia party had 13.3 percent of the vote while the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party was fourth with 11.6 percent, according to the almost complete results.
Veteran liberal politician Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party trailed in fifth place with 3.3 percent of the vote, insufficient to qualify for seats.
Veteran Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the vote was a wake-up call for the Kremlin, showing it would have to make room for the opposition in parliament.
“People have refused to give credence to the authorities, and in the future we will have a dramatically new political layout in the Duma,” he said.
Moscow Echo radio, citing senior United Russia sources, reported that United Russia chairman Boris Gryzlov would resign his post as Duma speaker, in a sign that the Kremlin will draw lessons from Sunday’s vote. The party refused to confirm the report.
The four years since the last parliamentary election have been marked by an outburst of criticism of the authorities on the Internet as web penetration of Russia started to finally catch up with the rest of Europe.
Putin was recently subjected to unprecedented booing when he made an appearance at a martial arts fight and opinion polls have shown chinks in his once impregnable popularity.
Opponents and Moscow-based Western-funded observer group Golos had said the vote was marred by unprecedented violations as the ruling elite downed websites and harassed monitors to limit dissent.
Meanwhile a string of news websites that do not toe the Kremlin line were down for election day on Sunday, including Moscow Echo, the Kommersant newspaper and the New Times magazine.
The Communists complained the elections were hit by “mass fraud” that turned them into a “war zone”. The central election commission said that turnout was just over 60 percent.