Opposition groups have been particularly angry in the capital Moscow, openly accusing authorities of rigging the election for the city assembly to ensure the ruling party maintains its tight grip on power. The vote is the first test of the government's popularity since the economic crisis hit the country hard a year ago. In the run-up to the elections, a small group of protesters took to the streets of Moscow, calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Yuri Luzhkov, the Mayor of Moscow, to be removed from office. They were venting their frustration after the election commission blocked all serious opponents of the government from running as independent candidates in Sunday's crucial vote for the Moscow assembly.
Opposition politician Boris Nemtsov described Sunday's polls as "fraud, farce, 100%", suggesting Muscovites might boycott the election. "No parties which have criticised the views of the Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov are taking part in the elections, and Vladimir Putin's party of corrupted bureaucracy is the biggest organisation trying to control power for future corruption," he said. "That is why this is not an election and it's why an idea of a boycott is quite interesting and I believe that millions of Muscovites don't want to go at all [to vote]."
The move has left just the so-called official opposition parties such as the communists in the race. Critics say they are only tolerated because they do not pose any real threat to the government. But Nikolai Gubenko, a communist member of the Moscow assembly, said even his party was facing unprecedented pressure from the authorities in this election. "Never before have the authorities gone this far in trying to make campaigning difficult for the opposition - any opposition, regardless of party affiliations," he said. "We are having enormous difficulties meeting people, holding campaign events, even putting up paid advertising posters."
Certainly, on the streets of the capital, all I have seen has been posters and activists for the ruling party, United Russia, and a couple of other Kremlin-friendly parties.
A recent opinion poll showed that almost 40% of Muscovites believe Sunday's election will be rigged. One Muscovite I spoke to said the election had already been decided. "This is a show, not an election," he said. "My vote will not count anyway." Another voter said she was pessimistic about the poll. "It doesn't matter how I vote, or how other people vote - the authorities will effectively appoint the people who they think are right," she said.
The election commission has strenuously denied the allegations. "If you look up the laws, you'll see that it is now a crime to rig an election," said Gennady Raykov, who is co-ordinating the Moscow city election. "We already have cases where people have been prosecuted. I can look you in the eye and promise you that people will be free to vote for any of the registered candidates." Critics say that may well be true, as the genuine opposition has already been eliminated.
Election observers say what is happening in the capital is particularly worrying because methods used for elections in Moscow - if successful - are then copied across the country.
It all flies in the face of President Dmitry Medvedev's recent promise to renew the country's political system and develop Russia in a democratic way.