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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 14:14 GMT
Q&A: Russian parliamentary election
The State Duma (parliament) in Moscow
Russia's new Duma will consist overwhelmingly of Putin supporters

President Vladimir Putin's supporters are celebrating a comprehensive victory for his United Russia party in the 2 December parliamentary election.

The election was widely seen as a referendum on Mr Putin's rule. After eight years in office, he cannot run again in the March 2008 presidential election.

International observers said the election was unfair and not up to democratic standards.

What do the results show?

With nearly 98% of ballots counted, Mr Putin's United Russia has 64.1%.

Way behind is the Communist Party, with 11.6% - the only opposition party to make it into the 450-seat lower house, or State Duma.

Two other parties, allied to the Kremlin, are also poised to win seats - A Fair Russia and the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR).

United Russia and its allies have the two-thirds of seats necessary to amend the constitution, if they wish to do so. There has been speculation that some of the president's powers could be transferred to the prime minister - a move that might keep Mr Putin holding the reins.

What are the main criticisms of the election?

Mr Putin insists that "the legitimacy of the Russian parliament has without a doubt been increased".

But the Communists, liberals and foreign observers all described the vote as unfair.

The two leading European democracy watchdogs - the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe - voiced concern about the overwhelming role of the state in the election campaign.

The OSCE said the Russian media had shown "strong bias" in favour of United Russia, that the new electoral code had marginalised smaller parties and that widespread harassment of opposition parties had been reported.

The UK and US governments have echoed the concern expressed by international election monitors.

How were these elections different?

These were the first Duma elections under a full proportional representation system, with the threshold for a party to win seats raised from 5% to 7%.

Other amendments to the electoral law made it harder and more expensive to register a party.

Mr Putin defended the changes, arguing that they strengthened major parties, gave the opposition a better chance of getting into parliament and hindered regional and separatist interests.

How powerful is the Duma?

The Duma MPs can draw up and pass legislation. They can withhold approval from prime-ministerial appointees, initiate no-confidence votes and begin impeachment proceedings.

What was media coverage like?

Election broadcast slots were allocated in the fully or partly state-owned broadcast and print media to all registered parties by lots. Parties could buy extra advertising in the independent media.

Most analysts say the three main state-run television channels generally shape voters' perceptions more than any other media, and opposition parties have long complained of negative or scant coverage on these channels.

Opposition parties took advantage of the right to advertise on billboards to get their message across.

How many parties were in the race?

Eleven parties were authorised to stand by the Central Electoral Commission, out of 35 that originally applied.

Some parties were rejected because they did not have enough members or sufficient representation nationwide, while others were judged to have too many invalid signatures on their applications.

What do the main parties stand for?

President Putin topped the electoral list of United Russia. His "Putin Plan" - economic development, a strong state role, independent foreign policy and development of Russia's "unique civilisation" - forms the party's programme.

The party won the 2003 Duma elections and has since built on its base to dominate the country with 115 out of 172 seats in the Federation Council upper house and about 73 out of 85 governors.

Its constituency and membership are the aspirational, educated, middle-aged and younger professionals.

Apart from Vladimir Putin himself, its leading figures are Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation campaigns for nationalisation of strategically important industries, a comprehensive social welfare network, economic diversification to reduce dependency on oil revenues, the break-up of Nato, and constitutional reform to devolve power to workers' councils.

Since the glory days of the 1990s, when it polled more than 20% of the popular vote and had governors throughout the industrial Red Belt of regions, economic recovery and President Putin's popularity have eroded its support.

United Russia has said it takes the party seriously, and has engaged in television debates with Communist representatives alone.

Its constituency is made up of older working-class people, especially in rural areas.

The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia fielded a list led by Duma Deputy Speaker and party founder Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Andrei Lugovoi, the prime suspect in the murder of former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko.

It stands for nationalism and economic autarky, but is careful not to criticise Mr Putin.

Its typical supporters are younger, low-income men from small towns.

A Fair Russia (Mothers/Pensioners/Life), led by Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, campaigns on social justice, strong defence and an anti-Nato agenda.

Mr Putin's deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov was involved in the creation of the party, which analysts have seen as an attempt to wean voters away from the Communist Party.

Who are the main opposition groups that failed to win seats?

Yabloko, led by economist Grigory Yavlinsky, is the standard-bearer of the liberal left.

Once involved in merger talks with the centre-right Union of Right Forces, it now appeals to the urban liberal intelligentsia

The Union of Right Forces, led by Nikita Belykh and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, is a centre-right, pro-Western party that appeals to young metropolitan professionals.

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