Russia's ruling party wary as nation votes
MOSCOW (AP) — Russians cast their ballots with muted enthusiasm in national parliamentary elections Sunday, a vote that opinion polls indicate could water down the strength of the party led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, despite the government's relentless marginalization of opposition groups.
Although Putin and his United Russia party have dominated Russian politics for more than a decade, popular discontent appears to be growing with Putin's strongman style, widespread corruption among officials and the gap between ordinary Russians and the country's floridly super-rich.
United Russia holds a two-thirds majority in the outgoing State Duma. But a survey last month by the independent Levada Center polling agency indicated the party could get only about 53 percent of the vote in this election, depriving it of the number of seats necessary to change the constitution unchallenged.
Party leaders have signaled concern, with Putin warning that a parliament with a wide array of parties would lead to political instability and claiming that Western governments want to undermine the election. A Western-funded independent election-monitoring group has come under strong pressure.
Only seven parties have been allowed to field candidates for parliament this year, while the most vocal opposition groups have been denied registration and barred from campaigning.