Voting begins in Russia for key parliamentary polls
Russians in the Far East began voting Sunday in key parliamentary elections expected to hand victory to Vladimir Putin's party amid claims of campaign fraud and unprecedented intimidation of observers.
"Polling stations are open," Konstantin Mikhailov, head of the local election commission in the city of Anadyr in the resource-rich Chukotka region, told AFP.
The other regions to vote first are diamond-mining Yakutia, the region of Sakhalin which includes an island chain contested by Japan, Kamchatka, and Magadan, the site of Soviet-era Gulag camps.
Seven parties including Putin's ruling United Russia are running in the elections to the lower house of parliament, the 450-deputy State Duma.
It is seen as a dry run of presidential polls in March in which current Prime Minister Putin is expected to win back his old job.
Analysts say United Russia had initially hoped to repeat the success of last parliamentary elections in 2007 when it secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent and received 315 seats in the Duma.
But with support for Putin and his party crumbling, United Russia is expected to win just over half the vote, according to pollsters.
Russia's independent monitor group Golos (Voice) has claimed widespread violations in the election campaign, including pressure to vote for Putin's party, incurring the wrath of the Russian strongman.
Over the past days, the small Moscow-based group has become the target of what its supporters say is a brutal campaign of intimidation including a probe and a smear documentary aimed at silencing it on election day.
The election was to end 21 hours later when stations close at 1700 GMT Sunday in the exclave of Kaliningrad on the borders with the European Union.
© 2011 AFP