Russia votes in parliament election without main opposition

Russia Election

MOSCOW (AP) — After a few weeks of desultory campaigning but months of relentless official moves to shut down significant opposition, Russia began three days of voting early Friday in a parliamentary election that is unlikely to change the country’s political complexion.

There’s no expectation that United Russia, the party devoted to President Vladimir Putin, will lose its dominance of the State Duma, the elected lower house of parliament. The main questions to be answered are whether the party will retain its current two-thirds majority that allows it to amend the constitution; whether anemic turnout will dull the party’s prestige; and whether imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Smart Voting initiative proves to be a viable strategy against it.

“There is very little intrigue in these elections … and in fact they will not leave a special trace in political history,” Andrei Kolesnikov, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The Associated Press.

Putin, however, urged Russians to vote, saying in a video message Thursday that “election of (the Duma's) new composition is undoubtedly the most important event in the life of our society and country.”

Polls opened Friday morning in the Far East regions of Kamchatka and Chukotka, which are nine hours ahead of Moscow. Voters will be able to cast ballots through Sunday.

With 14 parties fielding candidates for half of the Duma's 450 seats that are chosen by party list, the election has a veneer of being genuinely competitive. But the three parties aside from United Russia that are expected to clear the 5% support necessary to get a seat rarely challenge the Kremlin.

The Kremlin wants control over the new parliament, which will still be in place in 2024, when Putin’s current term expires and he must decide on running for reelection or choosing some other strategy to stay in power.

The other half of the seats are chosen in individual constituencies, where independent candidates or those from small parties such as the liberal Yabloko may have stronger chances. These seats are also where the Navalny team’s Smart Vot