Parliamentary vote starts in Russia’s westernmost Kaliningrad region

Polling stations opened in Russia’s westernmost exclave of Kaliningrad, which joined other Russian regions in a national parliamentary election on Sunday watched closely as a crucial test for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party.

Voting in the Kaliningrad region started an hour after polling stations opened in Moscow, St. Petersburg and another 50 regions in the European part of Russia and nine hours after polls opened in Chukotka, Kolyma and the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia’s Far East at 8am local time Sunday (2000 GMT Saturday).

A total of 110 million Russian citizens, including 2 million expatriats around the world, are eligible to vote in the parliamentary election to fill 450 seats in the State Duma in the next five years, according to the Central Election Commission.

Seven political parties are competing for representation in the Duma election but public opinion polls suggest that only four of them, United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communists and the Liberal Democratic Party, are expected to win enough support to get seats in the State Duma.

The 59-year-old Putin, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, was nominated last month by United Russia as its candidate for presidential elections next March which he is widely regarded as almost certain to win regardless of the party’s performance in Sunday’s Duma vote.

Last month, he repeatedly called for United Russia to retain a majority in the Duma to facilitate smooth passage of government initiatives through parliament in view of current global economic turmoil.

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