A day before parliamentary elections in Russia, there are mounting opposition claims that the poll is far from free and fair. Voters are expected to give a big majority to the party that backs President Vladimir Putin, ensuring he will be able to hold on to some kind of power after his presidency ends in March. Opposition groups highlight increasing reports of people being forced to vote for United Russia. The Kremlin rejects complaints that it has organised a campaign to silence its critics.
One opposition party says one of its regional HQs was today surrounded by police. After controversial changes to electoral laws, the communist party is the only one expected to join United Russia in qualifying for seats in parliament.
Also expected to struggle to get past a seven percent threshold will be the nationalist LDPR party and the liberal Yabloko group.
Commentators say the election has turned into a referendum designed to consolidate the influence of President Putin, who hasn’t ruled out a bid to become prime minister.
Western diplomats say it is going to be difficult to pass a verdict on the election after Europe’s main vote monitoring watchdog pulled out its observers, citing obstruction from Moscow.