Kremlin demands 65% share of December polls
The Kremlin has tasked officials with ensuring that Vladimir Putin's ruling party receives an average of 65 percent of the popular vote in December parliamentary polls, Vedomosti daily said on Thursday.
Citing a person close to the Kremlin administration, the newspaper said Russia's regions have been divided into three categories depending on the United Russia party's approval ratings.
The so-called "weak" regions have been given a minimum target of 50 percent of the popular vote, while "medium" and "strong" regions have to deliver 55-60 percent and at least 65 percent respectively, the newspaper said.
Strong regions are expected to score far higher than the minimum, boosting the overall average to around 65%.
United Russia secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent in last parliamentary elections in 2007. But the party has recently seen a decline in its ratings as Russians grow increasingly disillusioned with a lack of change for the better, analysts say.
According to a poll of 1,600 people conducted by the independent Levada Center pollster late last month, United Russia's rating stood at 57 percent in September, down from 60 percent in February.
Quoting two unidentified employees from the office of Moscow's mayor, Vedomosti said heads of the city's prefectures have been told to deliver at least 65 percent of the vote in the Russian capital. Otherwise, they could lose their job, it said.
A Kremlin spokeswoman did not provide an immediate comment.
The newspaper did not say how officials were supposed to implement the Kremlin instructions but observers have long accused the ruling party of voter intimidation, ballot stuffing and other violations.
It added that Russian governors were being instructed by officials led by Vladislav Surkov, a shadowy Kremlin strategist seen as the architect of Russia's current political system.
A top United Russia official denied the party was pursuing a precise target.
"We have long ago abandoned the practice of setting such tasks," Sergei Neverov said in comments released by the party, adding United Russia was more concerned about winning "voters' trust."
The December parliamentary elections are seen as a rehearsal for the March presidential vote in which Putin, who now serves as prime minister, is expected to seek a third Kremlin mandate.
Incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev, who has agreed to step aside and become Putin's prime minister, will lead United Russia into the December vote.
© 2011 AFP