Russia’s East, Medvedev vote for parliament

Russians vote Sunday in parliamentary elections that will test the country’s trust in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling party amid growing impatience with corrupt and ineffective government.

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, the lower house of Russia’s parliament, 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.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived with his wife on Sunday morning at a polling station located in the building of Moscow school No. 1118 in Dovzhenko Street in western Moscow to cast his vote in the parliamentary election.

No special security regime was introduced at the polling station in the wake of Medvedev’s arrival and local residents could enter the school freely and cast their votes.

Figures from electoral commissions in Russian regions, where parliamentary elections have been underway for several hours, suggest that the turnout is lower than during the 2007 polls.

In the Maritime Territory on the Russian Pacific Coast, only about 32% of voters had cast their votes by 3:00 p.m. local time (05:00 a.m. GMT) as compared with over 35% of votes cast by 2:00 p.m. local time in the 2007 legislative election.

In the Amur Region in the Russian Far East, the voter turnout was 39.24% as of 3:00 p.m. local time (06:00 a.m. GMT) or some 4% less than during the parliamentary poll in 2007.

In the Trans-Baikal Territory, which was formed only on March 1, 2008, the voter turnout was 33.88% as of 3:00 p.m. local time compared with 37.46% in the Chita Region and 59.37% in the Aginsk Buryat Autonomous Region, which existed separately during the 2007 parliamentary poll.

In the Khabarovsk Territory in the Russian Far East, more than 36.8% of voters had cast their votes by 3:00 p.m. local time (05:00 a.m. GMT) compared with 39.5% in 2007.

Nonetheless, the Central Election Commission announced that as of 10:00 a.m. Moscow time (07:00 GMT) the overall voter turnout at the parliamentary elections in Russia totaled 5% or 0.1% more than during the 2007 polls.

Putin’s United Russia party is expected to fare poorer than it did four years ago but nonetheless is considered likely to retain a majority in the next State Duma.

Competing parties, public groups and popular opinion-makers have united in criticism of United Russia, the dominant organization on the Russian political landscape in recent years, and Sunday’s vote is watched closely as a gauge of the party’s staying power.

The first exit poll data are due to be released as the last polling stations close, with initial official results expected in the early hours of Monday.

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.

“I am confident that every thoughtful, objective, serious person who wants a better lot for himself, for his children and for Russia will support the United Russia party in the State Duma vote on December 4,” Putin said at the party congress last week.

President Dmitry Medvedev, the junior member of Russia’s ruling tandem, tops the ticket of United Russia. The party organization is led by Putin though neither he nor Medvedev, his hand-picked protege, is formally a member of the party itself.


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