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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 14:16 GMT
Kremlin parties lead Russian vote
Voters mark their ballots at a polling station during regional elections
The Kremlin-backed United Russia party is set to maintain power
Preliminary results from Sunday's regional elections in Russia indicate that pro-Kremlin parties have won in all 14 regions holding a vote.

United Russia, backed by President Vladimir Putin, is leading in 13 regions, while a new pro-Putin party, A Fair Russia, leads in the other region.

The elections are widely considered a rehearsal for upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Opposition parties said they had been sidelined and dubbed the polls a sham.

The chairman of the Central Election Commission, Alexander Veshnyakov, said the preliminary results indicated that United Russia had won an average of 46% of the votes across the 14 regions.

Only in the southern region of Stavropol did A Fair Russia get more votes. However, the complex system there means that United Russia may end up with more seats in the regional assembly.

'Managed democracy'

A Fair Russia was formed late last year with the Kremlin's support as a means, officials said, to strengthen Russia's multi-party system.

Critics have said the party was created to foster the illusion of democracy in Russia.

Election officials said the Communist Party had secured 12.5% of the seats in the regional assemblies while A Fair Russia was close behind with 11.7%.

Turnout was 39.1% of the 14 regions' 31 million eligible voters - about one-third of Russia's total electorate.

Yabloko's head Grigoriy Yavlinsky. File photo
Grigoriy Yavlinsky's Yabloko party was barred from some regions
"This is managed democracy," said Sergei Ivanyenko, deputy leader of the liberal Yabloko party.

Yabloko was barred from contesting four of the nine races it wanted to enter because it had failed to meet tough new election criteria. It had a poor showing in the other five regions.

Mr Ivanyenko said they were elections in name only "which look like democracy but where in fact the authorities hand out votes and determine which parties and candidates are convenient for them," he told Reuters news agency.

The vote was the first test of new electoral laws introduced last year.

The minimum threshold of the vote a party needs to secure seats was raised; the minimum voter turnout for elections to be valid was lowered; and the "against all" option on ballot papers was eliminated.

The BBC's Russian affairs analyst Steven Eke says the overall result was to halve the number of political parties registered in Russia and to destroy any possibility of the smaller, liberal opposition parties having their candidates elected.

The Russian government says it wanted to create a more efficient system based on two or three parties.

Opponents of the changes say they were designed to ensure the Kremlin maintains control over the country's electoral system ahead of parliamentary elections later this year and a vote to choose a successor to Mr Putin next year.


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