INTERNATIONAL

Low turnout in Russian poll

MOSCOW DEC. 7. Low turnout in Russia's parliamentary poll on Sunday may damage the chances of pro-Government parties and benefit Communists and left-wing nationalists.

Voter turnout in the eastern regions of Russia, which sprawls across 11 time zones, was significantly lower than in the last election in 1999. In the Far East, only 46 per cent of the registered voters came to the polling stations, down 6 per cent from 1999. In the Irkutsk region, the turnout was 44 per cent, 8.5 per cent less.

"In a majority of Russian regions where voting has ended or is about to end, the turnout has not exceeded 50 per cent," the Lenta.ru online news service reported at 5 p.m. Moscow time.

The Central Election Commission has earlier predicted the same turnout of 62 per cent as in Russia's last parliamentary poll. Analysts said that if the turnout falls significantly below that level it may damage the chances of the pro-Kremlin party, United Russia, while the two main liberal parties, SPS and Yabloko, may not clear the 5-per cent minimum vote barrier to make it to the State Duma, the lower House of the Russian Parliament. A low turnout means that it is dominated by older-age Russians, who traditionally vote for Communists and nationalists, while the younger generation tends to support liberals.

A lack of intrigue in the current election, which is widely expected to be won by United Russia, may have contributed to the voter apathy. Communists are likely to come second, with Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalists in third place. About 109 million Russians are eligible to vote to elect the 450-member legislature.

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