MOSCOW (APP): President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called on Russians to cast their ballots in parliamentary elections on Sunday even though the polls are not expected to challenge his political dominance.
The nationwide polls -- which include the annexed Crimea peninsula for the first time -- come with Putin's approval ratings at around 80 percent despite Russia suffering the longest recession of his 16-year rule.
"I call on you to come to polling stations, to vote , to express your position," Putin said in a televised address.
"I am certain that no matter which political opinions we hold, participation in the voting is a civil duty for each of us, a manifestation of our sincere feelings towards our country and care for its future.
The past few years have been tumultuous for Russia as the Kremlin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and plunged into its worst stand-off with the West in decades.
But those dramatic events have had little play in the campaign and widespread apathy means voter turnout could likely be low.
The authorities have permitted more opposition candidates as they have worked to clean up the image of the polls after mass protests last time round in 2011 over vote-rigging provided a major challenge to Putin's dominance.
Putin insisted that candidates had been provided with "equal conditions for an open, fair competition" in the run-up to the vote .
But the control the Kremlin exerts over the media and political discourse means there is little chance of a serious challenge to the authorities.
A change to the voting system that sees half the 450 MPs now elected by constituency will most likely favour the United Russia party, which controls state and local resources.
Despite not committing himself officially, Putin is widely expected to stand again for a fourth term as president in 2018.