Russian electoral authorities have declared an overwhelming majority for the country’s ruling party – United Russia – following the end of the three-day voting exercise to elect new members of the lower house of the parliament, the Duma.

With counted completed, the country’s Central Electoral Commission said United Russia remained in first place with almost 50% of votes cast, showing sharp divergence from opinion polls, published shortly before the elections, showing support for the ruling party ranged between 25% and 30%.

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Next came the Communist Party of Russian Federation (KPRF) with over 19% of votes cast, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia LDPR with 7.5%, Fair Russia – Patriots for Truth with 7.4% and New People Party with 5.4%.

United Russia have over 300 seats in the 450-member Duma, enabling President Vladimir Putin to continue with his plan to run again for a fifth term in office in 2024 backed by an overwhelming majority in parliament.

Ballots questioned

Authorities have rejected reports of ballot-rigging and witness accounts of other violations, claiming publicly that these were “the most transparent elections” in Russia's modern history.

No independent verification of such claim is available as the Organisation for Security & Co-operation In Europe has been unable to send its observers to polling stations, while Russian authorities banned the public from viewing online CCTV cameras at voting locations.

Before the vote, criticism focused on the difficulties that opposition candidates have faced in standing against Putin's backers, amid reports of harassment and legal blocks.

Despite making gains compared with the 13.3% of votes it garnered in 2016, the KPRF quickly called for its followers to gather for protests, demanding a recount and alleging fraud at the polling stations.

Opposition and regional party leaders — many of whom usually avoid making strong criticism of the ruling administration — claimed on Monday that the victory was snatched away as a result of fraud in many constituencies, with their representatives pushed back into second place behind United Russia delegates.

Observers had expected even stronger results for the KPRF as many people voted for the party in a protest action, known as “smart voting”, invented by Russian leading opposition leader Alexei Navalny in attempt to boot out United Russia from the Duma.

However, authorities revised preliminary results in all constituencies where such alternative candidates were leading, late night on Monday, to give the lead to United Russia nominees.

Political observers expect that with United Russia in full control in the parliament, the Duma will never get to challenge the dominance of state-controlled and affiliated companies in the oil and gas sector.

Business as usual Gazprom and Rosneft

Two major Russian corporations — gas monopoly Gazprom and oil producer Rosneft — that are managed by allies of Putin are not expected to be exposed to reform any time soon, with the elections likely to strengthen rather than weaken Putin's position.

This, in turn, may slow the country’s involvement in the global energy transition because these corporations lobby strongly for continued use of hydrocarbons as the prime source of energy in the decades ahead, albeit with a growing interest in hydrogen.

Gazprom executive chairman Alexei Miller last week said the company has sufficient undeveloped resources to continue gas production and exports well beyond 2100.

He also added —possibly playing devils advocate to stressed European energy consumers — that the monopoly now sees markets in Asia and Pacific as “more attractive” in view of the region's growing gas demand and Europe's increasing focus on cleaner energy.

Miller has denied accusations from some members of the European Parliament about supposed manipulation of the gas price crunch on the continent, pointing to similar record high prices in regions, including in Asia, where Gazprom has no direct pipeline access.