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Russia votes in parliamentary polls with Putin secure

AFP , Sunday 18 Sep 2016
Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin walks at a polling station during a parliamentary election in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016. (Photo: AP)
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Russians voted in parliamentary polls on Sunday, with parties loyal to President Vladimir Putin set to maintain their dominance as the Kremlin sought to make a show of eliminating vote fraud after mass opposition protests last time around.

The nationwide elections follow several years of tumult that have seen the country annex Crimea from Ukraine, lurch into its worst stand-off with the West since the Cold War, plunge into economic crisis and launch a military campaign in Syria.

But Putin's ratings remain high at around 80 percent and, with the Kremlin in tight control of the media and public discourse, authorities appear to be banking on a trouble-free vote paving the way for him to cruise to a fourth term as president at polls in 2018.

Despite the dramatic events that have rocked the country, the campaign for the State Duma -- widely seen as a rubber-stamp body that has slavishly toed the Kremlin line -- was dubbed the most boring in recent memory by observers.

"The campaign wasn't interesting. They all promise a lot but they're treading a familiar path," said 70-year-old Alexander, voting in Moscow on Sunday morning for the small Pensioners' Party for Justice.

In the second city of Saint Petersburg, 47-year-old Dmitry Pribytkov called the vote "absolutely predictable," but said that "it's my country and I must express my opinion. At least they ask for it -- at least formally."

Polling stations for the vote -- which also elects regional leaders in some areas -- opened at 8 am across the country's 11 time zones and will close in Russia's European exclave Kaliningrad at 1800 GMT Sunday.

For the first time residents of the Russia-annexed Black Sea peninsula of Crimea are among the roughly 110 million voters eligible to cast their ballots for the 450-seat Duma, in polls condemned as illegal by Ukraine.

By 11am Moscow time (0700 GMT), the turnout nationwide was more than 10 percent, said the country's deputy election chief Nikolai Bulayev.

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