MOSCOW, December 2 (RIA Novosti) - Russia is holding parliamentary elections on Sunday, the fifth in its post-Soviet history, which are expected to cement the pro-Kremlin party's position for the next four years.
Official opinion polls suggested United Russia with President Vladimir Putin as its No. 1 candidate will gain a clear majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. The Public Opinion Fund said 63% of the electorate planned to back the "party of power".
The only other parties expected to overcome the 7% threshold required to enter parliament are the Communist Party, the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia, led by Kremlin loyalists.
The president's decision to top United Russia's party list has given the bloc a major boost. Putin, who has overseen eight years of rapid economic growth and the reemergence of Russia as a key player on the world stage, retains high popularity ratings among the core electorate.
The run-up to the Duma elections was marred by a dispute with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, after its main election monitoring arm refused to dispatch observers for the polls, citing restrictions and visa delays. Moscow in turn criticized "chaos" in the organization and reinvigorated calls for its reform.
The arrest and five-day detention of opposition leader Garry Kasparov last Sunday also sparked controversy. The chess grandmaster was arrested while leading a march of The Other Russia, an umbrella group of anti-Putin parties, for alleged public order offences.
Putin has urged Russians to vote for his party to ensure the continuity of his policies aimed at stability, order and sustainable economic growth.
In a speech to thousands of supporters at the capital's main sports stadium on November 21, he slammed Western-leaning opposition groups for attempting to restore an "oligarchic regime based on corruption and lies," in reference to the turbulent 1990s, when a small elite amassed vast wealth at the expense of millions.
A total of about 350 international observers will be monitoring the elections, the head of the Russian Central Electoral Commission said earlier.
Vladimir Churov also said political parties would send some 1.5-2 million observers to polling stations across the country to deter violations.
The new State Duma is set to meet for its first session following the elections on December 25-28.
Voter turnout at the elections to Russia's parliament reached 12.6% as of noon Moscow time (9:00 a.m. GMT), Central Electoral Commission Deputy Chairman Stanislav Vavilov said.
The election official said the voter result was almost two times higher than at the parliamentary elections held in 2003.