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(Moscow) — Vladimir Putin’s party won more than 60 percent of the vote with nearly half of precincts counted Sunday in a parliamentary election that could pave the way for him to remain the country’s leader even after he steps down as president.

The vote followed a tense Kremlin campaign that relied on a combination of persuasion and intimidation to ensure victory for Putin’s United Russia party.

With ballots from 47.1 percent of precincts counted, United Russia was leading with 63.2 percent, while the Communists — the only opposition party to win seats — trailed with 11.5 percent, the Central Election Commission said. Exit polls seemed to corroborate the early results.

The Kremlin has portrayed the election as a plebiscite on Putin’s nearly eight years as president — with the promise that a major victory would allow him somehow to remain the country’s leader after his second term ends next year.

Putin is constitutionally prohibited from running for a third consecutive term, but he clearly wants to stay in power. A movement has sprung up in recent weeks to urge him to become a “national leader,” though what duties and powers that would entail are unclear.

Source: Time Magazine