Pro-Putin party seen winning even greater sway in Russia΄s parliament

Pro-Putin party seen winning even greater sway in Russia΄s parliament

The ruling United Russia party is expected to win even greater dominance over Russia΄s lower house in a parliamentary election on Sunday (18/09/2016), showing that support for President Vladimir Putin is holding up despite sanctions and a deep economic slowdown.

The election for the Duma, or lower house, is being seen as a dry run for Putin's expected presidential campaign in 2018.

It is also a test of how well the Kremlin can oversee trouble-free elections. It will be the first parliamentary vote since 2011, when allegations of ballot-rigging sparked big protests against Putin in the capital.

Voting got under way at 2000 GMT on Saturday on the Chukotka Peninsula opposite Alaska and will wrap up in Kaliningrad, Russia's most westerly point, where people can cast their vote until 1800 GMT on Sunday.

"Of course I voted for United Russia," a middle-aged man in the town of Velikiye Luki in western Russia, who declined to give his name, told Reuters. "We don't need other parties here. At least they (United Russia) have done their stealing."

An elderly lady in the village of Avangard in the Tula Region, which abuts the Moscow Region, said she had always voted for United Russia and saw no other parties worth voting for.

"We don't need a multi-party system," she said.

United Russia, led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin loyalist, has 238 of 450 Duma seats, dominates the more than 80 regional parliaments, and is routinely depicted in a favorable light by state television, where most Russians get their news.

The party is able to draw on the support of the other three parties in the federal Duma, and benefits from its association with 63-year-old Putin, who after 17 years in power as either president or prime minister, enjoys a personal approval rating of about 80 percent. Putin does not belong to any party.

By contrast, liberal opposition politicians, who have just one sympathetic member in the Duma, complain they are starved of air time, vilified by state media, and their campaigns systematically disrupted by pro-Kremlin provocateurs. Pro-Kremlin politicians deny that charge.

The liberal opposition hopes it can break through to win about two dozen seats. Pollsters sat it will be lucky to snag a handful and may end up with none.