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Vladimir Putin to be embarrassed in Russian elections, exit polls show

(The Telegraph) - Russia’s central election commission last night said United Russia was leading the elections with 49.9 per cent of the vote with just under 70 per cent of precincts reporting.

Such a result, it would mean Mr Putin’s party has haemorrhaged support since it won almost 64 per cent in the last parliamentary election in 2007 and backs up anecdotal evidence that millions of Russians are beginning to tire of the regime’s dominance of political life.

Mr Putin said the initial results would ensure the country’s “stable development”. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian preisdent, said the results reflect “the real set of moods in our country” and was an example of “democracy in action”.

The vote is unlikely to stop Mr Putin, who is currently prime minister, from returning to the presidency next year for a third time but it will cause unease in the Kremlin which has worked hard to prop up his personal ratings which remain above 50 per cent.

“His ratings have fallen,” admitted Yelena Orlova, a pensioner who voted for his party on Sunday. She said corruption scandals had damaged his party’s image but that he still remained the most capable politician.

“In the 1990s people were pretty much on the same level (when it came to living standards) but now any local official quickly acquires houses, flats and cars,” she told The Daily Telegraph. “People see this and they are not happy,” she said.

Sunday’s vote was also marred by allegations of “mass fraud.” The web site of Golos, the country’s only independent election watchdog, was knocked out in a massive cyber attack as were the sites of half a dozen independent-minded media.

“I believe that nobody but government structures and the FSB is capable of conducting such a campaign,” said Liliya Shibanova, Golos’ director, referring to Russia’s Federal Security Service, the Soviet KGB’s domestic successor.

The Communist party said it had witnessed “mass fraud” with ballot stuffing and multiple 'carousel voting.’

Opposition activists who tried to protest the way in which the election was conducted in central Moscow and St. Petersburg were given short shrift and swiftly arrested or dispersed.

Earlier exit polls released on Sunday night showed United Russia winning between 46 to 48.5 per cent of the vote. Such a result would mean the party will still have won the election outright, garnering far more votes than any other party.

It would still have more MPs in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, than anyone else for the next five years.

By contrast, the Communist Party, its closest rival, appeared to have won about 19.5 per cent per cent of the vote.

What will worry United Russia just as much as its sharply reduced share of the vote is signs of voter apathy however.

As polls closed, turnout was said to be just over 50 per cent, well down on the 2007 vote that saw almost 64 per cent of the electorate participate. In parts of Siberia and the Far East turnout appeared to have dropped to as low as forty per cent.

Sergei, a 28-year-old Muscovite office manager who did not vote, said he did not see he had any other choice. “There is nobody to vote for. There is no alternative to United Russia and no point,” he said, as he sat in a Russian banya (sauna) quietly soaking up the heat.

“There was no way I was going to vote for Putin’s lot, the Communists are the walking dead, and the so-called democrats have done nothing as far as I can see.”

Many Russians credit Mr Putin with delivering higher living standards and restoring national pride in recent years but he was booed in public last month in an incident attributed to voter fatigue with his political longevity.

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