Moscow: President Vladimir Putin has signed off on a law that brings next year`s Russian parliamentary elections forward by three months, a move some commentators said gives an unfair advantage to pro-Kremlin parties.
"The election of the seventh convocation of State Duma deputies will take place on the third Sunday of September 2016," the Kremlin said in a statement on Wednesday.
Parliamentary elections were initially scheduled to take place in December 2016.
Supporters of the initiative, including State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin, have said an early election would ensure continuity between the adoption and implementation of the 2017 budget.
Critics of the move have argued it is unconstitutional and unfairly plays into the hands of the Kremlin.
Many analysts point to mounting economic troubles, saying pro-Putin parties will likely show better results after a modest campaign over the summer when many Russians are on vacation.
Some even called the move a trial balloon to see if Russians would support bringing forward presidential polls, which would further extend Putin`s grip on power.
Putin`s veteran ally and former finance minister, Alexei Kudrin, in June proposed that the 2018 presidential election be held at an earlier date to help the Kremlin launch reforms that could pull Russia out of the economic crisis.
Putin, who holds a record-high approval rating, has not ruled out running in the next presidential elections, which he is widely expected to win.
Kudrin`s proposal sparked debate in Russian political circles. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not dismiss the idea and said it would be discussed among political experts.
By way of example, Kudrin referred to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev who was re-elected in April with nearly 98 percent of the vote in snap presidential elections held one year ahead of time.
Nazarbayev said the early election was needed to give him a fresh term to tackle economic problems exacerbated by low oil prices and the economic crisis in neighbouring Russia.
Critics of the tactic claim that early elections unfairly increase the incumbent`s chances of being re-elected and do not provide challengers with sufficient time to prepare their campaigns.
But the Russian Constitutional Court ruled earlier this month that the initiative did not violate the constitution.
The parliamentarians who will not be reelected in September 2016 will preserve their immunity and other benefits until December of that year, according to a copy of the law released by the Russian government.
Widespread fraud allegations in the 2011 parliamentary elections brought tens of thousands of people to the streets of Moscow and Saint Petersburg in the largest demonstrations against Putin`s rule.