Russia’s far-flung electorate is voting in a parliamentary election widely seen as a referendum on the presidency of Vladimir Putin. People in the far east of the vast country were the first to cast their ballots. Voters are expected to give a big majority to United Russia, the party that backs Putin, enabling him to have some influence after he steps down in March. Ahead of the vote he appeared unruffled by opposition claims of unfair advantages for the pro-Kremlin bloc.
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.
Some commentators say the election could help extend the President’s political career. That is what his opponents say he is trying to achieve and he himself hasn’t ruled out a bid to become prime minister. Russian authorities ran TV ads urging people to vote.
Western diplomats say it’s going to be difficult to judge the fairness of the election after Europe’s main monitoring watchdog pulled out its observers, citing obstruction from Moscow.