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Apples, Bears and Rightist Forces battle for seats in the Duma

ALL THE indications are that Communist party will emerge as the largest block in the Duma when the election results are announced today. But second and third places are being contested by two large alliances occupying the centre ground:

Communist Party of the Russian Federation: A decade after the collapse of Soviet Union communism, the party remains the strongest in Russia. Led by Gennady Zyuganov, it has a loyal following, mostly among the older generation. Mr. Zyuganov ran unsuccessfully against Boris Yeltsin in the presidential election in 1996. Polls predict it will win 18-25 per cent of the vote.

Unity or The Bear movement: This new party, created to support the Kremlin, shot into second place in the polls thanks to the sudden popularity of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin because of the war in Chechnya. Polls suggest it will win 14-18 per cent.

Fatherland-All Russia: Grouping the respected former Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, the dynamic Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, and powerful regional governors, this bloc seemed unbeatable until the start of the war in Chechnya.

But society's consolidation around Mr Putin, whom FAR leaders feel uncomfortable in criticising, has made the movement less relevant. Like the Communist Party, FAR draws support from Russians who have suffered as a result of the bungled market reforms of the Yeltsin era. Opinion polls expect it to attract nine to 12 per cent of votes.

Yabloko or "The Apple" party: Led by Grigory Yavlinsky, a liberal economist who was not, however, involved in implementing reforms, Yabloko is seen by supporters as the "party of decency" and by critics as the "party of theorists who avoided taking responsibility". "Yabloko" is created from the first letters of the original founders' names but the word also means "apple".

A recent recruit to the party is the former Prime Minister, Sergei Stepashin. Opinion polls give it 5-9 per cent support.

Some famous names could be out of the next Duma as their parties risk winning less than the minimum five per cent needed to enter parliament.

Our Home is Russia, the bloc of the former Prime Minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin, and ex-premier Sergei Kirienko's

Union of Rightist Forces are ideologically similar. But they failed to work together so that the potential vote for advocates of the free market will be split. The colourful nationalist, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has had problems registering his party and may depart from the Russian political scene.