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Putin Supporters Hold Big Lead in Parliamentary Election - 2003-12-07


The party supporting President Vladimir Putin in Russia is holding a big lead according to preliminary results of Sunday's parliamentary election. The result was not unexpected.

The United Russia party is well ahead of its rivals with over a third of the vote, according to early returns.

President Putin is not formally a member of United Russia, but it was created to support him and made the expected gains primarily due to his popularity with voters.

Critics also say United Russia enjoyed many advantages throughout the month-long electoral campaign, with far more exposure in the mostly Kremlin-controlled broadcast media.

The main issue now is to what extent United Russia and other pro-Putin parties will dominate the parliament, or Duma.

One of those groups, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, is also doing well and is even ahead of the Communist party in some areas of Russia's conservative eastern region.

The Communists normally poll about 30-percent of the vote but opinion polls prior to Sunday's election showed a drop in support for them across Russia.

This is partly due to a new nationalist party known as Motherland, which looks set to cross the five-percent barrier required to have party seats in the Duma.

Motherland's leaders campaigned on a populist, anti-big business theme that found resonance in a public still struggling to cope with the difficult economic changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Faring less well are two small liberal parties, which may have trouble attaining the crucial five-percent threshold.

Leaders of the Yabloko and Union of Right Forces parties have warned that liberal opposition may be locked out of a legislature dominated by groups they call "national socialists".

The pro-Kremlin parties are aiming to perhaps control two-thirds of the 450 seats in the Duma, which would allow Mr. Putin to rewrite the constitution if he chooses to.

Some observers say the Kremlin would like to make changes to allow the president to stay in office beyond the second four-year term that he is expected to win easily in the presidential election set for next March.

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