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MOSCOW, December 4 (Itar-Tass) —— Elections to the Russian State Duma of the sixth convocation started in Russia on Sunday. When midnight struck in Moscow, the first polling stations opened in the Kamchatka territory, the Chukotka, Magadan and Sakhalin regions and some districts in Yakutia. The number of time zones in Russia have decreased from eleven to nine since the last parliamentary elections. Therefore, the overall duration of voting has also been reduced by two hours. It will be over in the Kaliningrad region at 21:00 Moscow time.
Time zones is not the only thing that differs these polls from the previous election campaigns. All the seven political parties registered in Russia are taking part in the polls for the first time in the history of modern Russia. The ballot papers include the Just Russia party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Patriots of Russia, the Communist Party of Russia, the Yabloko party, the United Russia party and the Right Cause party. About 3,000 candidates have been included in the federal party lists. It means that seven candidates will be running for one deputy mandate in the 450-seat lower chamber of Russian parliament.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will cast his ballot at polling station No.2614 in Moscow where he voted at the presidential elections in March 2008 and the parliamentary elections in December 2007, Medvedev’s press secretary Natalya Timakova said.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will vote at a polling station at the place of registration. His press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would traditionally vote in the first half of the day.
For the first time the lower house of parliament will be elected for a term of five years. Its mandate has been extended by one year. The so called “floating threshold” will be applied alongside with a seven-percent vote threshold. According to the recent amendments made to the election law, parties that gain five or six percent of the votes will gain one and two seats in the Duma, respectively.
This year’s election campaign has been unprecedented by the number of regional elections. Votes in 27 Russian regions are going to elect deputies to local legislatures alongside with deputies to the State Duma. According to the Central Electoral Commission, 2,800 people are expected to vote In Russia at elections of various levels and in local referendums on December 4.
“Electronic ballot boxes” is another novelty of these elections. They will be used at five percent of the polling stations in Russia and also at polling stations in Poland, Germany and Lithuania opened for Russian citizens. Ten million voters will use electronic ballot boxes on December 4. The Russian Central Electoral Commission has promised that 90% of polling stations in Russia will get electronic ballot boxes by 2015.
Russia has 96,000 polling stations of which 376 will be working in 146 countries.
Polling stations will open at railways and airports, in military units, hospitals, prisons, on ships that are making sea voyages, polar stations, etc.
About fifty polling stations in Russia are bearing the names of great Russians. A polling station in Yasnaya Polyana bear the name of Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, a polling station in the Arkhangelsk region has been named after Mikhail Lomonosov, Russian scientist and the founder of the Moscow State University. In the Ryazan region, one polling station is named after poet Sergei Yesenin and the Kaluga region has a polling station named after Yuri Gagarin.
The Russian Central Electoral Commission has confirmed that the Russian electoral system is ready for the elections to the State Duma. According to the Commission’s forecasts, the turnout at this year’s elections will be the same as four years ago and will make up 63.78%.
Apart from members of electoral commissions of various levels, more than 500,000 observers from the parties will monitor the elections.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the OSCE, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the CIS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Association of European Election Officials and legislative bodies of several foreign states will also monitor the Russian elections. All of them will be able to voice their assessments and conclusions after voting is over in the entire territory of Russia.
The Russian Central Electoral Commission will start announcing preliminary vote results at 21:00 Moscow time on December 4. It has promised to announce all preliminary results at 10:00 Moscow time on December 5.
The official results of the State Duma elections are to be summed up not later than December 19 and published before December 24. However, the Central Electoral Commission may finish its work earlier and the State Duma of the sixth convocation may get down to work even before the end of 2011.