Landslide win looks likely for Putin's United Russia party in parliamentary elections

Four parties – only one of which has a consistent opposition record – will likely gain enough seats to enter Russia's parliament.

President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party looked headed for a landslide victory in parliamentary elections Sunday, with early results suggesting the party would win nearly two-thirds of the State Duma’s 450 seats.

With ballots from 34 percent of precincts counted, four parties looked set to hurdle the 7 percent barrier needed to gain entry to the Duma.

Of those, only the Communist Party, which took 11.4 percent of the votes so far, has any consistent oppositionist track record.

UR, whose No. 1 candidate is Mr. Putin, had 63.3 percent of the vote, which will give it about 70 percent of the seats after votes of losing parties are apportioned among the winners.

The Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, which consistently votes the Kremlin line in the Duma, won 9.6 percent while Fair Russia, a pro-Kremlin left-wing party led by Putin protege Sergei Mironov, won 7.2 percent, according to the poll.

(Andrei Lugovoi, the ex-KGB agent who faces murder charges in Britain in the fatal poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, was No. 2 in the candidate list of Mr. Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democrats. If the early results hold, he will get a seat in the Duma – and with that, immunity from prosecution.)

Two liberal parties, the Union of Right Forces and Yabloko, received approximately 1 percent each.

“Democracy is still kind of a vague concept here,” said voter Natasha Verezhnikova, an office manager, speaking outside a downtown Moscow polling station. “Putin is the best leader we’ve had. I don’t see anyone better than Putin, but of course having a party with so much money has helped his chances.”

The past eight years under Putin have seen an economic rebound that has brought significant improvements in popular living standards and a growing sense of national pride among Russians.

Many people voting Sunday said they were supporting UR out of concern that any abrupt political changes could bring a return to the mass poverty and social turmoil of the 1990s.

“I support the status quo and hope Putin will stay for a long time,” said Boris Yezhov, a businessman who voted in a suburban Moscow polling station.

Putin, who is constitutionally required to leave the top post following presidential elections slated for March 2, has pegged his personal future to the outcome of the Duma elections. Though he has yet to disclose his plans, UR’s huge majority could set him up to be a critical player in Russia as prime minister, speaker of parliament, or some other key role.

Putin’s personal approval rating has seldom slipped below 70 percent during his eight years in power. In October, it spiked to 84 percent.

Over 107 million Russians across 11 time zones were eligible to vote, and turnout exceeded 60 percent, according to the Central Elections Commission.

The campaign was dogged by allegations of official abuses, including complaints that the state-run press lavished attention on Putin and UR while granting scant – and mostly negative – attention to opposition parties.

Russia’s only group of independent election monitors, Golos, complained Sunday that its activists had experienced harassment by police in several regions during the voting, including Krasnoyarsk, Oryol, and Voronezh.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who plans to run for the presidency, told journalists that Sunday’s polls were “the toughest and least democratic” ever held in post-Soviet Russia.

Garry Kasparov, head of the anti-Kremlin Other Russia movement said he had deliberately spoiled his own ballot to protest the lack of real choice. “Of course these elections were rigged from the very beginning,” he said.

Revisions to electoral law in recent years have eliminated local constituency races that made it possible for about 100 independent deputies to sit in the Duma. The revisions also made it much more difficult to register an opposition political party and raised the bar for entry into the State Duma to 7 percent of the votes.

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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