Putin's party clings to reduced majority in Russia

Putin's United Russia won 49.5 percent of the votes, compared with 64 percent support four years ago, almost complete results and projections show.

Vladimir Putin casts his vote 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Vladimir Putin casts his vote 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Vladimir Putin's ruling party clung to a much reduced majority in parliament on Monday after an election that showed growing weariness with the man who has dominated Russia for more than a decade and plans to return to the presidency next year.
Putin's United Russia won 49.5 percent of the votes on Sunday, compared with 64 percent support four years ago, and enough to take up 238 of the 450 seats in the State Duma lower house, almost complete results and projections showed.
The party received nearly one-third fewer votes than in 2007 and fell far short of the 315 seats it secured in the last Duma election, making it the biggest electoral setback for Putin since he rose to power in 1999.
Opponents said even this outcome was inflated by fraud. The leader of the Communist Party, on target to increase its representation from 57 to 92 seats, said the election was the dirtiest since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Although Putin is still likely to win a presidential election next March, Sunday's result could dent the authority of the man who has ruled for 12 years with a mixture of hardline security policies, political acumen and showmanship but who was booed and jeered after a martial arts bout last month.
"Many Russians voted against the system and Putin is the head of that system," said Stanislav Kucher, a commentator with Kommersant FM radio station. "Putin has a very difficult choice. To survive politically he needs to reform but he can only reform if he gets rid of many vested interests in the ruling circle. To stay as he is means the opposite of political survival."
Putin has cultivated a tough man image with stunts such as riding a horse bare chested, tracking tigers and flying a fighter plane. But the public appears to have wearied of the antics and his popularity, while still high, has fallen.
Many voters, fed up with widespread corruption, refer to United Russia as the party of swindlers and thieves and resent the huge gap between the rich and poor. Some fear Putin's return to the presidency may herald economic and political stagnation.


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