'Strong support'
 
Hailing a victory that cemented his party's dominance, United Russia's leader said it showed voters associated his party with the political stability and strong economic growth they have enjoyed under Putin.


"They know that with free and fair elections and no censorship they will not last long''

Garry Kasparov, Other Russia opposition leader

"We can say with certainty that support for United Russia is high across the board," said Boris Gryzlov.

 

Election officials said United Russia had won 60.5 per cent of the seats up for grabs in regional assemblies, while the opposition Communist Party was second with 12.5 per cent.

   

Fair Russia was close behind with 11.7 per cent of seats, followed by the nationalist Liberal Democrats on 4.7 per cent.

 

There were no complete figures available for the share of the vote across the 14 regions.

 

Year of elections

Voting in Sunday's legislative assemblies began a year of elections that will include the national parliament ballot and will be capped by Russians choosing Vladimir Putin's successor.
 
Putin, who is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election after serving for two terms as president, plans to choose a successor.
 
Critics claim the new election rules were
designed to stifle dissent [Reuters]
Critics say the new rules that applied to Sunday's ballot for the legislative assemblies in 14 of the 56 regions stifled dissent and were not democratic.
 
Voters could no longer cast ballots "against all" and in most regions there was no longer a minimum turnout required to validate the election.
 
In a few regions, all voting was by party, meaning no ballots could be cast for individual candidates and parties had to clear a higher minimum threshold of seven per cent to gain seats.
 
Candidates from 14 parties competed in the regional polls which critics say do not represent genuine pluralism.

The Gazeta newspaper said: "The election process overall has become meaningless in its present form.
 
"The amount of falsification, black PR, open criminality, pressure and threats to opponents was simply too great."
 
Barred from ballots
 
Garry Kasparov, who leads the Other Russia opposition movement, said: "Russia today technically is a police state and this corrupt and unethical Putin regime is trying to survive at any cost.
 
"They know that with free and fair elections and no censorship they will not last long,'' the former world chess champion said.
 
Voters in St Petersburg were dismayed that some parties had been barred from the ballot.
 
Yabloko, a liberal party, was excluded by a ruling that more than 10 per cent of the signatures it gathered to enter the race were invalid.
 
Another party, the liberal Union of Right Forces, was barred from the ballot in four regions because in some cases candidates withdrew under pressure from threats or with promises of jobs, its leader said.
 
Over the weekend, police in St Petersburg dispersed one of the largest opposition rallies in Russia in years, mainly complaining against the sidelining of opposition parties.