Pro-Putin party holds big lead in Duma elections

Monday, December 8, 2003

MOSCOW -- The main party supporting President Vladimir Putin led rivals by a large margin in Russia's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to partial official results, putting Putin on the path to the solid majority he seeks to increase his hold on the country.

More might in the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament house, would make it easier for Putin to push through the sometimes unpopular market-oriented economic reforms he has promised and cut the bureaucracy that stifles Russian growth.

Kremlin critics fear too much power could prompt a drift closer to authoritarianism in a country still setting its course for the future after seven decades of Soviet rule.

With 49.3 percent of votes counted, the United Russia party led with 36.5 percent.

, more than twice as many votes as its closest rival, Central Election Commission chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said.

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