Russia voted on Sunday in a landmark parliamentary election, marred by claims of foul play as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party was expected to win but with reduced margin, ahead of the crucial March presidential polls that will see the Russian strongman return to the Kremlin.
About 100,000 polling stations opened today at 8 am local time in the vast Eurasian country spread over 9 time zones and are scheduled to continue till 8 pm local time to elect the sixth post-Soviet parliament, expected to hand victory to Putin's United Russia party but with reduced margin.
Amid reports of numerous violations and ballot rigging, 110 million Russians, including those in India, voted for the lower house of parliament, the 450-deputy State Duma, a poll seen as a dry run of March 4 presidential polls in which current Prime Minister Putin is expected to swap roles with President Dmitry Medvedev.
In a first, Russia opened a polling station in Goa to enable its citizens to cast their vote to elect the State Duma -- lower house of the Parliament.
There are over 10,000 Russian citizens holidaying or living in the popular Indian resort. Besides, polling stations for the Russian nationals opened in the country's embassy in New Delhi and consulates in Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.
Independent Election watchdog Golos (Voice) complained of 'massive cyber attacks' on its website alleging violations. It claimed rampant violations in the campaign and said its "Map of Violations" website documenting reports of fraud was inaccessible due a cyber-attack and its email was paralysed. Meanwhile, seven political parties are competing for representation in the Duma election but public opinion polls suggest that only four of them, United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communists and the Liberal Democratic Party, are expected to cross 7 per cent threshold to get seats in the State Duma.
Opinion polls indicate that the election results could
water down the strength of the country's dominant party. As about 3,500 the polling booths opened at 930 IST in Moscow, which has over seven million registered voters, numerous reports of alleged violation and ballot rigging started to pour in from the regions where voting was already underway.
The poll is being observed by about 700 international observers, including India's Chief Election Commissioner SYC Quraishi.
The Communist Party alleged that its observers were not allowed inside the polling stations in Saratov (Volga region) and the ruling United Russia had organised 'rotating' voting by ferrying students in buses to several times cast ballots at different polling stations.
The liberal websites of Radio Ekho Moskvy (Moscow Echo), Slon.ru and 'Golos' came under DDOS attack and were not accessible. "The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit the publication of information about violations," Moscow Echo editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov wrote on Twitter.
The ruling United Russia, whose performance at the present poll will a litmus-test of Putin's popularity, reported that its office in the western city of Bryansk was attacked by Molotov cocktail and caught fire.
President Medvedev, who is leading the United Russia to poll, came to a polling station in west Moscow with his wife Svetlana to cast his vote.
Putin also cast his ballot at the polling station at Kosygin Street, where he is officially registered as resident.