Russian Ruling Party Weakened as Voters Choose New Parliament

Posted December 4th, 2011 at 1:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Russians cast votes Sunday across nine time zones, in parliamentary polls widely expected to weaken the grip of Vladimir Putin's ruling party in the State Duma (lower house of parliament).

Minutes after polls closed Sunday, exit surveys showed Mr. Putin's United Russia Party carrying about 48 percent of the vote. The Communist Party was running a distant second with about 19 percent.

United Russia pulled more than 64 percent of the vote four years ago. But Russian analysts in recent weeks predicted a sharp decline in the party's popularity, with voters voicing discontent about the growing income gap between Russia's rich and poor, and allegations of official corruption.

Moscow's English language RT television reported more than 100 arrests in the capital as voting took place Sunday. The reports said most of those detained faced charges of holding illegal rallies.

Earlier in the day, a leading independent Russian vote monitoring organization, Golos, told VOA that Russian police blocked poll watchers from their monitoring posts around the nation.

Golos and the popular Russian opposition radio station Echo of Moscow (Ekho Moskvy) also said their websites were crippled by denial-of-service attacks, which overload websites and make them inaccessible. Several opposition news sites also were not working.

Golos says it has compiled more than 5,300 complaints of election law violations, and it accused the ruling party of complicity in most of them.

Last week, Mr. Putin, the current prime minister, formally accepted his party's nomination to return to the presidency – a post that analysts say he is certain to win. He announced his intentions in September, confirming a deal under which he would appoint current President Dmitry Medvedev as his prime minister.

The planned job swap has angered many in Russia, who said it would strengthen authoritarian rule and clear the way for Mr. Putin to become Russia's longest-serving leader since communist times.

If he regains the presidency, the 59-year-old Mr. Putin could serve two more 6-year terms and remain in power until 2024. He was first elected president in 2000.