Background info: Yabloko is the party of Grigory Yavlinsky, one of the prominent early reformers, who became well-known by the "500 days" program for radical economic change he drafted in 1990, which Gorbachev refused to implement. Locked out of the later Yeltsin "Family", Yavlinsky became one of the most consistent and principled critics of Yeltsin when it came to the Family's corruption, centralism and intrigues - his only long-standing critic from the right.
As a result, Yabloko became the epitomal "political home" for the former dissidents and impoverished intellegentsia, especially after the "Democratic Choice" party folded in the 1995 elections. The party never managed to reach out much beyond that constituency though, and thus Yabloko got 8% of the vote in 1993, 7% in 1995 and 6% in 1999.
In '99, a second right-wing party, the SPS (Union of Rightists), made parliament, polling some 9% of the vote but catering for a different electorate: the "New Rich", the businessmen and wannabe entrepreneurs. The two parties were kept apart by cultural differences, their opposite stances on the Chechnyan war (Yavlinsky was against) and the support the SPS long lent to Putin. This month, both parties failed the threshhold, getting a mere 4% of the vote each - less than the number of voters who opted for "none of the above".
Their failure was attributed partly to Putin's personal popularity, partly to the voters' further turn away from liberal, capitalist programmes, but to a large extent also to the near-complete control the government exercised over media coverage during the election campaign.
Year after year the Putin administration has clamped down on the remaining independent (private) TV and radio stations, and now none remain on a national level. Since newspapers (most hardly independent themselves) are too expensive and thus barely read, the government's lock on information is near-complete.
It is this that international observers have come out most harshly on, with both OSCE and the US denouncing the elections as unfair.
International wariness had already been evoked earlier on, when oligarch Gusinsky, who still owned a number of government-critical media, was prosecuted (and eventually arrested) last autumn for corruption crimes in the 90s. There is no doubt that he will have been guilty of such, but the fact that he was singled out while the other oligarchs, who do not oppose Putin, are left at peace - and the ways in which the government used the occasion to try to retake control over Gusinsy's (oil) business empire roused fears among both investors and diplomats.
In the elections this month the government has also benefited from adopting a nifty strategy from the Ukraine to further divide the opposition: launching parties that sound just like the main opposition parties, but are in fact loyal to the government. E.g., the nationalist-communist, but government-loyal "Patriotic Union", benefiting from lavish media attention, pulled 9% of the vote - and thus succeeded in halving the "real", opposition Communist Party.
Some government critics go further still and point to unexplained assaults on opposition politicians (including the unsolved murder of Liberal Russia leader Yushenkov) and the series of bloody bomb attacks that preceded both Putin's re-election in 2000 and these elections now, which Putin has attributed to Chechen terrorists but that were never solved. These attacks are seen to have fanned the kind of fear and nationalist anger that was bound to bolster the Putin vote. The revelation, by Novaya Gazeta, that an agent of the Russian secret service (and former member of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe!) had participated in the bloody Chechen hostage-taking in the Nord-Ost theatre (and got off scot-free) has fuelled suspicions further (see Docent P's posts here).
The full results of the elections this month were:
Unified Russia (Putin's party) -- 36.9 percent;
Communist Party of Russia -- 12.7 percent;
LDPR - Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (hysterically nationalist in rhetorics, but always votes with the government) -- 11.8 percent;
Motherland-Patriotic Union bloc (nationalist-communist, but loyal to Putin) -- 9.0 percent;
"None of the above" -- 4,8 percent;
Yabloko -- 4.3 percent;
Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- 3.9 percent;
Agrarian Party -- 3.8 percent.
English-language Yabloko website
Yabloko publications in English
A range of much smaller groups, both (far-)left and right, have also started campaigning for voters to either boycott the March presidential elections or vote "none of the above", according to this RFE/RL report
; the Central Election Commission has already declared such calls "illegal".