Early results in Russia show pro-Kremlin party leads

A man casts his ballot at a polling station at the Kazansky railway station during the Parliamentary elections in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. Sunday will be the last of three days voting for a new parliament, but there seems to be no expectation that United Russia, the party devoted to President Vladimir Putin, will lose its dominance in the State Duma. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Early results Sunday in Russia’s parliamentary election showed the dominant pro-Kremlin party well in the lead, but it was unclear if the party will retain the two-thirds majority of seats that allow it to change the constitution.

The election is widely seen as an important part of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in which control of the State Duma, or parliament, will be key.

Results from about 30% of the country’s polling stations gave the pro-Kremlin United Russia party 45% of the vote for the 225 deputies apportioned by party lists, according to the elections commission. Another 225 lawmakers will be chosen by individual races, and the elections commission said early results showed United Russia candidates leading in 179 of those single-constituency seats.

The election Sunday lacked significant opposition presence after Russian authorities declared organizations linked to imprisoned Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most prominent foe, to be extremist. The voting was also marred by numerous reports of violations, including ballot-stuffing.

The early results showed three other parties that almost always support Putin returning to the State Duma, as well as the New People party, which was formed last year and is regarded by many as a Kremlin-sponsored project.

The Communist Party received about 22% of the party-list vote, a sizeable improvement from the 13% it got in the last election in 2016. United Russia got about 54% five years ago, so the early results indicate a s