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Russians Vote In Parliamentary Elections

September 17, 2016

Russians are heading to polling stations across the country in parliamentary elections that are expected to see the continued domination of the State Duma by parties that support President Vladimir Putin.

Russia's governing United Russia party and three other parties that rarely defy the Kremlin are widely expected to keep their leading positions in the 450-seat lower chamber.

Voting will last for a total of 22 hours until polls close in the Kaliningrad Oblast which lies on the Baltic Sea.

"I knew who to vote for," Putin told journalists after casting his vote in Moscow, according to Russian news agencies. "Don't you have an idea?"

Voting is also taking place in the forcibly annexed Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, the first time since Moscow's takeover of the territory in 2014.

Unlike the last two parliamentary elections, only half of the seats will be selected by national party-list, with the other 225 being contested in races held in specific districts.

National surveys in recent weeks have shown the pro-Kremlin United Russia with support of around 50 percent of likely voters, which would be enough to maintain its absolute majority.

But opinion surveys are also showing high levels of voter apathy, so turnout in the elections will be carefully watched.

By midday Moscow time, the turnout nationwide was around 23 percent, said the country's deputy election chief Nikolai Bulayev.

A Putin supporter, 63-year-old pensioner Aleftina Lebedeva, explained to RFE/RL correspondent Tom Balmforth outside a polling station in Moscow why she intended to vote for the ruling party.

"What United Russia promises, United Russia does," she said. "I'm a pensioner and I can say that what they promised, they have done."

However, Karina Mishulina, a 35-year-old actress, expressed dissatisfaction with Putin's party.

" All these laws, the education system has been destroyed, medical care too, there's no money, mom gets kopecks for her pension," Mishulina said. "What good is there? They have houses, castles, and so on, and we, excuse me, are starving."

Allegations of vote-rigging in the last parliamentary elections, in 2011, led to large protests against Putin in Moscow and other cities.

The Kremlin has tried to assure voters of a clean vote by allowing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the elections and appointed a new head of the country's election commission.

Central Election Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova said on September 18 that she had received reports of so-called carousel voting -- where voters are bussed around polling stations, voting at each one, after obtaining absentee ballots -- in the city of Barnaul in the southern Siberian region of Altai.

If confirmed, she said, the commission would call for criminal prosecution and consider annulling the results.

"Everything is going normally" in most regions, Pamfilova added.

However, the respected independent election monitor Golos said that by 2:30 p.m. Moscow time, it had received 310 calls alleging electoral violations on election day and recorded 656 allegations on an interactive website.

"I really want people to come vote, to believe in elections," Pamfilova said earlier on live television from Moscow as polls opened in the Far Eastern region of Kamchatka.

"We will be watching the entirety of the voting process in our huge country," added Pamfilova, a former human rights advocate and cabinet minister under President Boris Yeltsin who has pledged to prevent electoral fraud.

"For the authorities it is important to preserve an air of decency," Yekaterina Shulmann of the Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration told the AFP news agency.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a loyal supporter of Putin, is the head of United Russia, which holds 238 of the 450 seats in the outgoing Duma.

United Russia also has controlling majorities in Russia's regional parliaments.

A total of 14 parties are taking part in the elections.

The Communist Party, the A Just Russia party, and the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia are also considered to be loyal to the Kremlin and its policies.

Golos and the independent Levada Center polling agency have been officially labeled "foreign agents," seriously hampering their work, some of which pointed to a recent decline in the popularity of United Russia.

International observers monitoring the vote are to present their preliminary post-election statement at a news conference in Moscow on September 19.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Robert Coalson, AFP, AP, and Interfax

Source: http://www.rferl.org/content/russia-duma- elections-voting-putin/27997462.html

Copyright (c) 2016. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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