Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party failed to win a majority in parliamentary elections today, according to exit polls.
United Russia’s vote dropped more than 18 percentage points from four years ago to 45.5 percent, according to an exit poll of 80,000 people by the Public Opinion Foundation. The party got 48.5 percent, according to an exit poll of 250,994 people by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Official results are due tomorrow.
“This is a personal defeat for Putin,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst based in Moscow. “He understands that his popularity is falling and it’s falling increasingly fast.”
Putin, 59, who plans to return as president next year to give him potentially almost a quarter-century in power if he runs again in 2018, lost popularity as stalling wage growth and the government’s shortcomings in curbing corruption repel voters.
The loss of United Russia’s two-thirds majority, which allowed it to singlehandedly change the Constitution, is the party’s first electoral setback since it was set up 10 years ago. Putin next year may be forced to make unpopular cuts in social spending and raise the pension age to balance the budget. United Russia currently has 315 seats out of the 450-member State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
The premier, who will run in March presidential elections, warned last week against “smashing” the parliament’s unity and suffering the political paralysis afflicting Europe and the U.S. as Russia seeks to avoid contagion from the euro region’s debt crisis.
Three other parties scored above the 7 percent threshold for proportional representation in the legislative body. The Communists are set to garner between 20 percent and 21 percent, followed with between 13 percent and 14 percent for the Just Russia party, which campaigns for increased social spending, and between 11.5 percent and 13 percent for the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, according to the exit polls.
Opposition parties complained today of mass violations during the election, including ballot stuffing and misuse of absentee voting.
United Russia was identified as “the party of swindlers and thieves” by 36 percent of respondents, according to a recent poll by the Levada Center.
‘Venal and Detached’
Putin would get 31 percent in a presidential election, compared with 8 percent for Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and 7 percent for President Dmitry Medvedev, according to a Nov. 18-21 Levada poll. A third were undecided.
“Dissatisfaction with the level of wages and a distrust of power as venal and detached from people are directly reflected on United Russia’s approval rating,” Grigoriy Kertman, the chief analyst for the Public Opinion Foundation, said before the election.
Real wages increased an average of 15 percent a year between 2000 and 2008, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Including declines for much of 2009, growth has averaged 1.5 percent since.
Russia was the 143rd most-corrupt country of 182 surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index. Russia is the world’s most corrupt major economy, with higher levels of graft than in Pakistan, Cameroon and Niger.
During Putin’s first two terms as president, he worked to centralize power and increase state ownership of the country’s biggest companies. Buffeted by a booming global economy, Russia’s economic growth averaged 7 percent a year during his 2000-2008 tenure.
Gross domestic product of the world’s biggest energy exporter will increase 4.1 percent this year after 4 percent last year, the government estimates.
Putin first came to power in 2000. After serving for the maximum two terms allowed under the Constitution, he handed the presidency to his protégé, Medvedev, in 2008. Medvedev, 46, in September agreed to step aside next year to allow Putin to return to the Kremlin, swapping jobs with his mentor to become prime minister.
“Should United Russia underperform, Putin is likely to boost his populist rhetoric by pledging more social spending programs and a tougher stance on corruption,” Lilit Gevorgyan, a London-based analyst at IHS Global Insight, said in an e- mailed note on Dec. 2. “However, he and his party face a key challenge -- fatigue with the tandem.”
-- Editors: Balazs Penz, Paul Abelsky
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