The Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast his vote in the country’s parliamentary elections in a poll which is widely seen as a referendum on his eight years in power. Opinion polls suggest his will be one of a flood of votes for his party, predicting a massive win for United Russia.
But the communist leader Gennady Zyuganov cast his vote, and then called it the dirtiest, most irresponsible election. The Communists are forecast to be the only opposition party to exceed the 7 per cent of votes needed to take up seats in the Duma.
The former chess champion, and opposition presidential candidate, Garry Kasparov publicly spoiled his ballot paper, accusing the Kremlin of “raping” the electoral system. His was one of several opposition voices claiming the Kremlin changed the electoral rules to benefit United Russia, and used skewed media coverage in the run up to the poll.
As the 100-million registered voters braved sub-zero temperatures at 96 000 polling stations, the Central Election Commission claimed turnout was double the level than at the same point in the 2003 ballot. And all that amid commentators’ claims that the main question about today’s result will not be if Putin’s party will win, but whether it will be just a huge victory, or a total opposition wipeout.
Banned by the constitution from a third term as President, Putin still wants to hold sway in the corridors of power after he steps down. He is hoping a strong mandate at the parliamentary ballot box will give him what he wants.