Russia votes in the least free elections since the collapse of the Soviet Union


United Russia, the Kremlin-backed party that dominates the State Duma, is expected to fight for rights in the three-day vote, which ends Sunday, as it obtains less than 30 percent of the polls, its lowest score in over a decade.

The Russians blamed the ruling party – which has become synonymous with corruption scandals – for the declining standard of living and the stagnation of the economy.

But the absence of real opposition candidates on the ballot means United Russia is still almost certain to win an election characterized by apathy and fear.

Margarita Monchenko, a 21-year-old waitress in Novosibirsk, said there was no point in voting. Her own grandmother is responsible for the elections in their hometown and, according to the waitress, regularly falsifies the turnout figures and, perhaps, the United Russia vote share.

“My single vote won’t change anything,” Monchenko said. “United Russia always wins.”

The campaign in Novosibirsk, as elsewhere in the country, has been silenced. One of the few faces on the street is Andrei Zhirnov, candidate of the Communist Party, one of the political groups tolerated by the Kremlin as part of its “managed democracy”.

Mr Zhirnov, 47, wearing a red jacket bearing his name, has noticed a dramatic change in the mood of voters since the last Duma elections in 2016.

“People have become angrier with the authorities,” he said. “People hear the screws are tight everywhere.”

“They are afraid that (repression) will affect them too. This fear is very strong.

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