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Russians Vote in Parliamentary Elections - 2003-12-06


In Russian elections Sunday, 450 seats in the Duma, the country's lower house of parliament, are at stake. A party supported by President Vladimir Putin appears set to make a strong showing.

There are 23 parties competing in Sunday's election, ranging from small nationalist organizations to the Communist Party, which has about one third of the seats in the current Duma.

There is even a small group called the Automobile party, which takes aim at the problem of corruption by Russia's traffic police, often on the lookout for bribes.

Yet, one party stands out. It is known as United Russia, and it is openly backed by President Vladimir Putin, even though he is not officially a member.

United Russia is already one of the dominant parties in the outgoing Duma, and it is almost certain to increase its grip on the legislature in Sunday's vote because of the overwhelming power and popularity of Mr. Putin.

Opinion polls show United Russia could even have enough support from various other parties to wield overall control of the new Duma.

In contrast, two small liberal parties are in danger of falling below the five percent minimum vote required to have party seats in the new Duma.

Critics say all of this is due to new authoritarianism under Mr. Putin, and that the attempt to establish democracy in the so-called "new Russia" has faltered.

Mark Urnov is a political analyst with the Expertise Analysis Foundation in Moscow. He says Russians have always looked to a strong, decisive leader capable of bringing stability, especially to the economy.

"It's very important that the period of Putin's presidency was the period of our economic growth, and economic normalization," he said.

Russia has enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, largely due to the high price of oil, the country's main export.

But in contrast to the political disarray of the final years under former President Boris Yeltsin, Mr. Putin seems to have restored a sense of confidence and optimism since he came to power four years ago.

Analysts say there is danger in the fact that so much depends on the decisions and ideas of just one man.

But for now, most Russians accept there is effectively no alternative to Mr. Putin, who is expected to easily win a second term in the presidential election to be held next March.

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