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Early Results Show Putin Party Leads Parliamentary Poll

December 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Early results have shown that Unified Russia, the party of President Vladimir Putin, is on course for victory in the country's parliamentary elections.

Announcing the first preliminary vote results, Central Election Commission head Vladimir Churov said that Unified Russia was in the lead.

"In first place, according to preliminary results, at 2100 [Moscow time], is the Unified Russia party with 62.8 percent. In second place is the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, with 11.5 percent of the votes," Churov said.

The run-up to the vote has been marred by allegations that the poll could be rigged, with Western monitors say their attempts to observe the poll have been hampered.

More than 100 million voters are eligible to cast ballots.

Churov has said that in all of the country's regions turnout was up on the 2003 election.

Eleven parties are competing for seats in the 450-seat lower house, but opinion polls suggest the Unified Russia party, whose list is headed by Putin, will win a strong majority in the State Duma, boosting the president's bid to retain power after leaving the Kremlin next year.

Putin, ranked by opinion polls as the most popular politician in Russia, is credited by supporters for presiding over the longest economic boom for a generation.

Engineer Mikhail Zolotov, a Moscow resident, said he voted for Unified Russia because Russia enjoyed stability under the pro-Kremlin party.

"You know what, I had enough of the chaos of the 1990s, when I had to leave the factory that I worked at, here nearby. Then I changed jobs several times. Now we have some sort of stability and order," Zolotov said.

Opposition Complaints

Putin has vowed to step down as president when Russia holds a presidential election in March, as the constitution bars him from seeking a third consecutive term. But the KGB veteran has said he will use the Unified Russia party to preserve influence.

Ten other parties, including the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party Of Russia, and the Yabloko party, are competing though it is not clear how many will secure the 7 percent needed to qualify for seats.

Opposition parties have accused the government of stifling their campaigns, complaining that Unified Russia had benefited from its ties to the Kremlin and has enjoyed widespread and favorable media coverage. Opposition marches have been broken up ahead of the vote.

Speaking at an election rally in Moscow on November 30, Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said that Russia has earned the right to have laws that are equal for everybody.

"It has, at last, obtained the right to have a constitution that should be followed by everybody, including the president and any other citizen of the country," he said.

Opposition leader Garry Kasparov has dismissed the elections as a "farce." Candidates of his movement, Other Russia, have been barred from contesting the election.

The election-monitoring office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has said it would not be observing the vote because the Russian government had made it almost impossible for it to operate. Putin has accused the United States of pushing the OSCE not to send observers to monitor the elections to make the vote "illegitimate."

Only a small number of deputies from the OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) are observing the polls.

That means some 330 foreign observers, including from former Soviet republics, are monitoring the vote, far fewer than in 2003.

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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