MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Dmitry Medvedev urged Russians on Friday to vote “for the future” by electing a strong parliament to maintain stability and said all parties had been treated equally, despite opposition complaints of foul play.
Medvedev is leading Vladimir Putin’s United Russia into Sunday’s election, but made no direct reference to the party in a pre-election address in his capacity as head of state, although the party’s slogan is: “The future belongs to us”.
In an apparent reference to the chaos of the 1990s, when parliament was bitterly divided before United Russia’s dominance, he said a unified legislature would best be able to defend national interests.
“Will this be a legislative body that is torn by irreconcilable differences and is unable to decide anything, as we have unfortunately already had in our history?” he said in a national address.
“Or will we get a functioning legislature where the majority are responsible politicians who can help raise the quality of life of our people, whose actions will be guided by the voters’ interests and national interests?” he said.
United Russia is expected to win the election but with a reduced majority following signs of voter apathy and weariness with the party and Putin since he announced plans to reclaim the presidency next year after four years as prime minister.
Under Putin’s plan, announced in September, Medvedev would become prime minister after the presidential election which Putin, 59, is all but certain to win next March.
Opposition parties say United Russia has benefited from favorable television coverage and fear there will be voting irregularities, but Medvedev said: “In accordance with the law, conditions were created for free and equal competition.”
Many voters say they are not planning to vote because they expect the voting to be rigged and they are fed up with politicians not fulfilling their promises.
“I‘m not going to vote because there’s no difference between all the political forces. They’ve all been around for 20 years, making the same promises and doing nothing,” said a 35-year-old Muscovite who gave his name only as Dmitry.
Campaign posters for United Russia have dominated cities in the run-up to the election and opposition parties say it has benefited from much more air time on television.
Kommersant newspaper, which publishes the daily average amount of television coverage given to competing parties, showed United Russia taking the lion’s share of air time with over an hour. The liberal Yabloko party was second with 10 minutes.
The seven parties competing in the election planned a series of rallies or meetings with voters on Friday, the last day of campaigning across the world’s largest country and the biggest energy producer.
Medvedev and Putin have appeared in numerous high-profile events to try to win votes for United Russia but opinion polls show it is unlikely to retain its two-thirds majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Although Putin’s personal ratings are still high, they have slipped from their peak and he was jeered when he spoke after a martial arts bout in Moscow last month.
He has reverted less often in the past few weeks to the kind of stunts that built up his macho image, such as shooting a tiger or riding a horse bare-chested, in a sign that advisers believe voters may have grown tired of such antics.
The biggest gainer in the election is expected to be Gennady Zyuganov’s Communist Party, still the main opposition force 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union. Opinion polls suggest it will come second, but far behind United Russia.
Also hoping for gains are Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s nationalist LDPR and Grigory Yavlinsky’s Yabloko party, which had no seats in the previous parliament.
Reporting By Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage