Kremlin hopes for two-party system in doubt-poll

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MOSCOW, Sep 18 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin can count on a loyal parliament after December polls, but may fall short of ambitions to create a system entirely dominated by two Kremlin-backed parties, according to an independent poll.

Most analysts view the polls as key to Kremlin plans to steer Russia towards the election in March of a new President endorsed by Putin. Putin must step down after completing a second term, but has made clear he intends to retain political influence and left open the possibility he may run again later.

Figures released by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) show that United Russia, the main pro-Kremlin party, is set to dominate in the race for 450 seats in the State Duma.

According to the poll, 48 per cent of respondents who plan to vote were likely to back United Russia. A second pro-Putin party, central to Kremlin calculations, may however fail to qualify for seats.

Putin, whose political reforms have all but closed doors to parliament for small parties, says a political system based on few, possibly two, big parties would furnish stability.

Fair Russia, led by the head of parliament's upper house Sergei Mironov and explicitly supported by the Kremlin, is widely viewed as part of this project.

POOR START But at the start of the campaign Fair Russia trailed behind two older parties -- the Communists and the Liberal Democrats of maverick ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky -- and was below the seven-per cent threshold needed to win Duma seats.

According to FOM, six per cent of respondents were ready to vote for Fair Russia compared with nine per cent for the Communist Party and seven percent for Liberal-Democratic Party.

''These figures cannot be considered a forecast of the election results,'' Lyudmila Presnyakova, the FOM's chief sociologist, told a news conference.

''But if the vote took place next weekend and I had to make a forecast, I would painfully doubt Fair Russia's chances and be more or less certain that the Communists and the Liberal Democrats would make it into the Duma,'' she added.

The communist party is vocal in its criticism of Putin, while Zhirinovsky is loyal to the Kremlin establishment, but perhaps volatile in his political affiliations.

Presnyakova said liberal opposition parties -- Yabloko and the Union of the Right Wing Forces -- would probably get just one-percent support each.

The poll was conducted over the weekend among 3,000 respondents in 63 Russian regions.


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