The Kremlin maintains parliamentary elections on Sunday will be free and fair. The opposition slams the vote as a farce, claiming results are being rigged. Commentators say it has turned into a referendum designed to consolidate the power of president Vladimir Putin.
The pro-Putin United Russia party is expected to win a landslide, with the president having led the party into the polls. He is stepping down as president in March, but seems keen to want to stay in a powerful position. He has not ruled out a bid to become the next prime minister.
After controversial changes to electoral laws, the communist party is the only one expected to join United Russia in qualifying for seats in parliament.
Some analysts believe the nationalist LDPR may get past a seven percent threhold to qualify, but there seems to be little chance for other opposition parties such as Yabloko.
While the Kremlin shrugs off criticism that it has trampled on the opposition, Europe’s main vote monitoring watchdog, the ODIHR, will not be observing these polls, citing obstruction from Moscow.