Vladimir Putin’s ruling party is set for victory in Russia’s parliamentary elections despite a dip in support, preliminary results suggest.
United Russia received 44.5% of votes, according to an exit poll, compared to 49% in the previous election five years ago.
Liberal opposition parties, the only group openly critical of President Putin, reportedly failed to get over the 5% threshold needed for party representation.
The nationalist LDPR was said to be in second place with 15.3% of the votes, followed by the Communist party on 14.9% and the Just Russia party on 8.1%.
United Russia, which is set to remain the largest party, was created by Mr Putin 15 years ago and is headed by Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev.
Mr Putin said it was a “good result” and people voted for his party even though “things are tough” with the economy.
He said supporters believe United Russia politicians “are really working hard even though it does not always work”.
And Mr Medvedev claimed the party would still end up with an “absolute majority”.
Mr Putin did not stand in the election. His next test will come in the 2018 presidential elections which, judging by the nature of Russian politics and Mr Putin’s high approval ratings, he is guaranteed to win.
Meanwhile, a leading Putin critic has told Sky News the nation is at a crossroads, risking a return to the Soviet-era totalitarian regime.
The warning came from the country’s ex-prime minister, Mikhail Kasyanov, who heads the opposition Parnas party, which took part in elections for the first time having previously been blocked by the authorities.
However, as one of Russia’s unofficial opposition parties, not approved by the Kremlin, it faces heavy restrictions.
Russians go to the polls in local parliamentary elections every five years.
There were 450 seats up for grabs in the lower house of the Russian parliament (the State Duma), with 4,500 candidates running across 14 parties.
Some 2,000 of those candidates ran as independents.
Elected MPs will hold their seats for the next five years, with 266 seats needed by one party to win a majority.