Russia heads to polls as 3-day parliamentary elections kick off
Russians head to the polls Friday for a three-day parliamentary election that is unlikely to see the ruling United Russia party lose its majority despite a steep fall in ratings over the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin's critics in years, Reuters reported.
The vote is a test of President Vladimir Putin's grip on power across 11 time zones from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea as the Kremlin faces malaise at home over faltering living standards and dire ties with the West.
At stake is United Russia's super majority in the 450-seat State Duma, which last year helped Putin ease through constitutional reforms that allow him to run for office again and potentially stay in power until 2036.
The vote runs until late Sunday and is seen as a dry-run for the presidential election in 2024, a highly sensitive moment for the Kremlin should it choose to embark on a political transition to a new figurehead.
Putin, a former KGB officer who turns 69 next month, has not said if he will seek reelection when his current term ends in 2024. He has served as president or prime minister since 1999.
The Kremlin leader's fiercest domestic critic, jailed anti-corruption firebrand Alexei Navalny, hopes a tactical voting campaign led by his team in exile can upstage United Russia and hurt its bid to secure a hefty new majority.
The 45-year-old ex-lawyer whose movement was banned as extremist this summer was jailed in March in a case he called trumped-up after recovering from poisoning with a Soviet-style nerve agent.
His allies, who accuse the Kremlin of a sweeping crackdown, have no chance of gaining even a toehold in real politics after they were barred from running for office because of their association with Navalny's network.
The Kremlin denies any politically driven crackdown and says individuals are prosecuted for breaking the law.