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Big Win Expected for Putin as Russians Vote in Parliamentary Election

Russians are voting in a parliamentary election in which President Vladimir Putin leads the list of the ruling United Russia Party, though he is not a candidate. VOA Moscow Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports Mr. Putin's name on the ballot could explain pressure for a high voter turnout.

Polls opened in each of Russia's 11 time zones at eight in the morning, staying open until eight in the evening. First to cast ballots were residents of Chukhotka, across the Bering Sea from Alaska.

The Interfax News Agency reports voter turnout in the region at nearly 77 percent. Neighboring Kamchatka is reported at nearly 54 percent.

Within two hours after voting began in Moscow and before it finished in most of the country, Russian election officials and the national news media reported a turnout twice as high as the previous election, based on midday volume.

A get-out-the-vote campaign was conducted via television and billboard advertising. Opposition sources also reported many voters faced workplace pressure to cast ballots in favor of United Russia.

Analysts say it is important for the party to get at least a 60 percent voter turnout to allow President Putin to claim popular support. Although he is not a candidate, Mr. Putin said United Russia should influence all levels of Russian government.

At election precinct number 2717 in Moscow, like at many of Russia's 95,000 polling stations, voters were greeted to a festive atmosphere - music, food, and an impromptu bazaar of household items.

Antonina Kalistratovna, 79, entered the precinct to cast her ballot for Vladimir Putin's party, but says she did not know exactly why.

Kalistratova says everybody recommends voting for Putin. "We like anybody," she notes, "as long as they help us and do not abandon us."

Ilya, a 23-year-old medical student cast his ballot for the communists, who promise to improve social benefits.

Ilya says he read the Communist Party program, which convinced him that it offers the most equitable social policy.

Sunday's election was organized under two significant rule changes. Unlike previous elections, voters no longer cast ballots for individual candidates, but rather for political parties whose members determine the composition of parliament. The second rule requires a party to gain seven percent of the vote for parliamentary representation.

Under the new threshold, public opinion polls indicate only two of the 11 participating parties are assured seats in the new parliament - United Russia with an overwhelming majority, and the Communist Party. Two others with a chance are both Kremlin-friendly - the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and A Just Russia.

United Russia is the only party to have had permission for a media campaign on national television, which opposition activists say gave the ruling party an unfair advantage.

Voting in many precincts is now conducted with paper ballots scanned into computers. The vote count begins as soon a polls close, however a final tally is not expected until December 16.