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Voting Begins In Russian Parliamentary Elections

Voting Begins in Russian Parliamentary Elections

Voting got under way first Sunday morning in Russia's Far East for the country's parliamentary elections. Pre-election opinion polls forecast a landslide vote for President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party, which is aiming for a big victory Sunday.

Electioneering officially came to an end Friday at midnight, but opposition leaders including Garry Kasparov say their efforts to persuade voters never really got started, because of government-led pressure tactics and tight controls on the media.

Mr. Putin made clear during the campaign that his United Russia party intends to gain influence over all of the country's key power structures, including parliament, the federal and regional governments, the courts and the Central Bank.

The final day before an election in Russia is known as "the day of silence," because electioneering is over. Russia's television networks announced a 30 percent increase in government pension benefits Saturday, and a 15 percent hike in military salaries.

More than 100 million Russians are eligible to vote, including those who live abroad but remain citizens of Russia.

Mr. Putin is not running for re-election as president in March, but he has told voters their choices in the parliamentary elections are particularly important for that reason.

The president's name is at the head of his party's candidate list, indicating he might plan to become prime minister in the next government, and thus retain much of the power he now holds.

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Opposition leader Kasparov, the former world chess champion, calls the elections a farce. He was released from jail Thursday after completing a five-day sentence imposed after he took part in an anti-Putin demonstration in Moscow one week ago.

The press-freedom group Reporters Without Borders says Russians have not received fair and unbiased information about all of the parties competing in the election. It says harassment tactics have been employed to prevent Russian news media from reporting about opposition parties' activities.


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