United Russia Leads in Elections, But Its Majority Shrinks
United Russia, the governing party of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, suffered surprisingly steep losses in parliamentary elections on Sunday and was barely clinging to a 50 percent majority, with 95 percent of the votes counted.
The three minority parties that now hold seats in Parliament — the Communist Party, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia, a social democratic party — all made strong gains, meaning that United Russia would have little choice but to forge a working relationship with at least some segment of the newly empowered opposition.
Critics of the government have said for weeks that they expected widespread campaign abuses, and reports of electoral violations streamed into online social networks during the early morning hours, as the ruling party’s vote tally edged upward.
The elections had shaped up not just as a referendum on United Russia but also on Mr. Putin, and his plans to remain as Russia’s paramount political leader. And while the final tally was not complete, the results conveyed a clear rebuke from voters weary of a leadership that has been in place for more than a decade. The signal is all the more pointed on the heels of Mr. Putin’s decision to run for the presidency, serving for one six-year term, or possibly even two terms.
President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who called to congratulate the leaders of the three parties that won seats, acknowledged that the results would require a “more complex configuration” in Parliament and the formation of “coalition bloc agreements” — a major shift from the more than two-thirds supermajority that now gives United Russia the ability to change the Constitution without impediment.
“Democracy is in action,” Mr. Medvedev said, standing with Mr. Putin at United Russia’s campaign headquarters, where both appeared a bit shaken. “The party performed worthily; it essentially represents 50 percent of our population — the final number will be determined — and the result is real democracy.”