Russian poll expected to bolster Putin

Russians began voting in parliamentary elections in a ballot that could squeeze out the liberal opposition and extend President Vladimir Putin’s consolidation of power.

    Putin (L) supports the United Russia party

    Voting in Moscow kicked off on Sunday morning, nine hours after polls had opened in the easternmost of Russia’s 11 time zones in the Far East.

    The pro-Kremlin party United Russia is attempting to capture a two-thirds majority in the 450-seat lower house of parliament, known as the State Duma.

    With that majority, the party can implement changes in the Russian constitution, as long as the upper house of parliament and Putin approve.

    If they win that margin, the Kremlin could push for a change in the constitution, which currently limits presidents to two terms.

    Such an amendment would give Putin the opportunity to extend his rule in the all but certain event he wins a second term in March.

    One Western research agency speculated that United Russia may win more than 260 seats in the chamber.

    “The liberals on the scene do not stand much of a chance,” said Henry Hale, a Russian researcher with Indiana University in the United States.

    Enthusiasm feeble

    In much of the country the election inspired little excitement among the 109 million registered voters.

    Tight security, observers and
    cheap refreshments met voters

    Pensioner Yelizaveta Litvintseva was among the first voters to cast ballots, due more to old habits than to any excitement about the elections, she said.

    “I always try to vote early so I have nothing to feel bad about,” she said. “Though it makes no sense; they (politicians) promise and promise but they’ve run the country into the ground.”

    Security was tightened across much of the country after a bombing attack on Friday on a commuter train in southern Russia blamed on Chechen separatists.

    Putin slammed the attack as an attempt to destabilise the country before the election.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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