'Pro-Kremlin party heading for big win'

MOSCOW DEC. 7. A pro-Kremlin party is emerging as a big winner in today's parliamentary vote, with the Communists trailing a distant second, according to exit polls.

United Russia, the party that strongly supports the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, may win 37 per cent of the vote, according to an exit poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation. The Communist Party is coming second with 15 per cent.

The nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, may come a surprising third with 12 per cent of the votes, closely followed by the newly established left-wing bloc, Rodina (Motherland), which is winning 9 per cent of the votes. Both results point to a perceptible shift to the left in the public mood.

The two pro-Western right-wing parties, SPS and Yabloko, according to exit polls, may get 6 per cent, which is barely enough to make it to the State Duma, the Lower House of the Russian Parliament.

Earlier in the day, 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 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.

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