MOSCOW, Sept 20 (Reuters) - Russia's ruling United Russia party, which supports President Vladimir Putin, won an emphatic parliamentary majority after its most vociferous critics were prevented from contesting an election that opponents said was marred by large-scale fraud.
With 98% of ballots counted on Monday, the Central Election Commission said United Russia had won nearly 50% of the vote, with its nearest rival, the Communist Party, at just under 20%. United Russia won 54% in 2016, the last time a vote was held.
The scale of the victory means United Russia will have more than two-thirds of deputies in the 450-seat State Duma lower house of parliament. This will enable it to continue to push through laws without having to rely on other parties.
The Kremlin hailed the result, saying United Russia, which Putin helped found, had confirmed its role as the leading party. It said the election had been competitive, open and honest.
"The Communists have improved their results and there are new parties that have done well," said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who praised the way the election had been conducted.
Kremlin critics alleged large-scale vote rigging. They said the election was a sham and that a newly-introduced electronic voting system had been used to deprive opponents of United Russia of victory in Moscow.
Some Moscow-based Communists who felt cheated called for a protest in the Russian capital on Monday evening. The central square they named as the venue was sealed off by police on Monday afternoon.
"With such a colossal number of violations, the results of the State Duma elections cannot be recognised as clean, honest or legitimate," said Lyubov Sobol, an ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny whose movement was declared extremist in June by a court.
Electoral authorities said they had voided any results at voting stations where there had been obvious irregularities and that the overall contest had been fair.
Sobol had hoped to run for parliament herself but Navalny's allies were barred from taking part after the extremism designation. Critical media and non-governmental organisations were also targeted by the authorities in the election run-up. read more
Navalny's allies had organised a tactical voting campaign designed to drain support from United Russia, whose popularity is lower than it used to be because of a malaise over faltering living standards and Navalny's allegations of corruption. read more