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Russia: Pro-Putin Party Heading For Victory

Moscow, 8 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The party backing Russian President Vladimir Putin appears headed for a convincing victory in Russia's parliamentary election. With 80 percent of the vote counted, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party leads with 36.7 percent.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is second with 12.8 percent of the vote, down from 24 percent four years ago. Third is Vladimir Zhirinovskii's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 12 percent.

Motherland -- a new party combining nationalists and communists -- is fourth with 8.9 percent.

Russia's main liberal parties, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) -- have, so far, polled 4.3 and 3.9 percent, respectively.

A party needs at least 5 percent of the vote to win any of 225 State Duma seats set aside for parties.

The other 225 seats of the State Duma are being decided in local elections being contested by individual candidates. Results from those races are expected much later.

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov expressed alarm at the strong showing of Unified Russia and the nationalist parties. He suggested they could act together to tighten government control over the economy and society.

Communist Party leader, Gennadii Zyuganov, dismissed the elections as a "disgusting show." The chairman of the Russian Central Election Commission, Aleksandr Veshnyakov, denied charges of electoral fraud.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had said the pre-election campaign was marred by pro-Kremlin bias in the media, a charge echoed by many Russian opposition parties and commentators. Later today, the OSCE, and other groups that monitored yesterday's voting, are due to release their findings.