Exit polls from Russia’s parliamentary elections suggest that Vladimir Putin’s ruling party is set to win the most votes but may lose its majority in the lower house.
The vote, which has been dogged by allegations of fraud, is seen as a test of Prime Minister Putin’s popularity as he prepares to run for president again next year.
If the exit polls are accurate, the elections will reinforce the sense that Putin’s popularity is waning, even if he is still expected to win the presidential election in March 2012.
Preliminary results indicate a steep drop in support for Putin’s United Russia party. They show the party winning somewhere between 46 percent and 49 percent of the vote, compared to the 64 percent it received in 2007, the last time parliamentary elections were held.
Recent opinion polls have shown a dip in support for the country’s leadership, as well as growing disillusionment with the direction of the country. Putin has already served two terms as president from 2000 to 2008, and has been prime minister since 2008. Last month he was booed by a crowd at a martial arts contest.
According to the exit polls, the Communist Party has won about 21 percent of the vote, the nationalist Liberal Democrat party 15 percent, and the center-left party 13 percent.
Several prominent opposition groups were effectively barred from fielding candidates. Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe say that “most parties have expressed a lack of trust in the fairness of the electoral process.”
An independent Russian election watchdog, Golos, has criticised what it calls a campaign of harassment by the Russian authorities.
The final results of the election are expected to be announced on Monday.