MOSCOW President Vladimir Putin on Thursday strongly urged Russians to cast ballots for the main pro-Kremlin party whose ticket he's leading in Sunday's parliamentary vote.
"I ask you to come to the polls and vote for United Russia," Putin said in a televised address to the nation. "I count on your support."
The election campaign has seen massive official support for United Russia, which is expected to win by a landslide, and harassment of opposition groups.
Putin said last month that he would lead the party's ticket. The people who lead party tickets do not always take seats in parliament, and the Kremlin has said Putin has no intention of doing so.
Instead, the party has cast the election as a referendum on the popular president and the course he has set for Russia.
Putin said a vote for United Russia would "secure the continuity of our policy and fulfill our obligations to the people," pointing at Russia's economic revival under his rule.
Putin has suggested he would use the vote to continue wielding influence over Russian politics even after he steps down as president next spring. The two-term constitutional limit bars the popular Putin from seeking re-election in March.
The president warned that failure to back United Russia could plunge the nation back into the economic and political chaos of the 1990s.
"Please don't think that the direction and pace of our development will be automatically maintained that's a dangerous illusion," he said.
Rights activists said that authorities were pressuring voters to cast their ballots for the Kremlin-backed party, and opposition groups saw their rallies broken up by riot police and many activists, including world chess champion Garry Kasparov, were arrested.
Kasparov, co-leader of an alliance of Russian opposition groups, was released from a Moscow jail Thursday after serving his five-day sentence for leading a weekend protest march.
"The goal was to send a message," Kasparov said after stepping out of the police car that delivered him to his Moscow home. "Next time it will be a criminal case."
During the campaign, Putin has sought to encourage a high turnout and solid support for United Russia by castigating his political foes as "foreign-fed jackals" and lashing out at the West.
He accused Washington this week of trying to undermine the credibility of the vote by encouraging observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to boycott the election a claim U.S. officials denied.
The OSCE election monitoring office said on Nov. 16 it would not send an observer mission to Russia because Moscow had taken too long to issue visas and had created other obstacles, including restricting the size of the mission to 70 people.