Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday set Dec. 4 as the date for elections to the State Duma, the powerful lower house of parliament that has been dominated by Kremlin loyalists since the last vote.
The Duma is the only chamber of the national legislature that is directly elected. Since the last election in 2007, the United Russia party headed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has held 315 of the 450 seats, while opposition parties were squeezed out of the Duma.
The three other parties _ the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and the populist Just Russia _ generally offer little opposition and support the Kremlin in most initiatives.
The election is to be followed by the presidential vote in March.
Medvedev made the announcement Monday during a meeting with leaders of political parties with a presence in the Duma at his summer residence in Sochi.
"I would very much want the makeup of our future Duma to maximally reflect the political preferences of the widest range of our citizens," Medvedev said in televised remarks.
Under a 2005 election law, all seats in the Duma are chosen by proportional representation, and a party must get at least 7 percent of the national vote to qualify for seats. During the 2007 vote, opposition, human rights and vote-monitoring groups claimed the Kremlin orchestrated widespread machinations aimed at ensuring a high turnout and a big United Russia win.
Medvedev acknowledged the claims in his address.
"Two things are equally unacceptable to us _ the administrative lawlessness of officials who are trying to manipulate the elections ... and ungrounded claims of falsifications that we often hear from those who lost," he said.
Before the 2007 vote, half the Duma's seats were filled by candidates from individual races, rather than party lists, allowing independents and members of small parties a hypothetical chance.
Only officially registered parties are eligible for votes, and official scrutiny serves as an effective tool to deny registration to Kremlin critics and liberal parties.