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Polls to tighten Putin grip

Moscow, Dec. 7 (Reuters): Russians today voted in parliamentary polls expected to tighten President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power and open the way for a drive against corruption and promised reforms to lure investors.

First partial official results released by Russia’s electoral commission gave a heavy lead to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which scored 36.5 per cent. The results came from just 2.4 per cent of voters in the far east.

Ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s party was second with 15.6 per cent, followed by the Communists with 13.2 per cent.

A poll conducted by the ROMIR organisation on behalf of The Moscow Times, gave United Russia 34 per cent to the Communists’ 14 per cent, with the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party on 11 per cent.

A second survey published by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) gave United Russia 37.1 per cent and the Communists 13.2 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats (LDPR) on 11.6 per cent.

Both polls showed a breakthrough for the nationalist Motherland (Rodina) party, formed only a few months ago — with about 9 per cent.

The surveys showed the two liberal parties — Yabloko and the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) — could clear the 5 per cent barrier to win seats in the 50 per cent of State Duma seats distributed by party lists.

Shortly after voting, Putin said he had made his view clear about which party he wanted to win the election.

“My preference is well known,” he said, referring to United Russia, a party hurriedly created before the last election to help ensure Putin’s rise to power. He is almost certain to win a second four-year term next spring.

The election, preceded by what many say was the drabbest campaign since the end of the Soviet Union and marred by pro-Kremlin media bias, is almost certain to hand pro-Putin parties greater hold over the lower house Duma.

“Russia does not need to be cured. Russia just needs to be woken up. And I call on all our voters to wake up today,” party chief and interior minister Boris Gryzlov said after he voted.

Millions of Russians fought through snow and wind to vote in an election that spanned the sprawling country’s 11 time zones.

Many said they saw little choice but to vote for United Russia, who with Putin’s backing seemed best placed to help lift them out of grinding poverty and into decent housing with reliable water and heating, and a chance to earn a regular wage.

Voter apathy has been one of the biggest concerns, but by early afternoon Moscow time, turnout had already passed the 25 per cent needed for the election to be declared valid.

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