TOGLIATTI, Russia – President Vladimir Putin's ruling United Russia party is expected to easily win a majority in Russian parliamentary elections Sunday.
But despite Putin's high approval ratings, economic upheavals have created pockets of dissatisfaction in the country. One is the industrial city of Togliatti, named after an Italian Communist stalwart and likely to vote Communist this weekend.
The southern Russian city of 700,000 was long a stronghold of jobs centered on producing the unlovely but reliable Lada compact automobiles. The city, whose name honors the late Italian Communist general-secretary Palmiro Togliatti, prided itself on being the Soviet analogue of U.S. auto hub Detroit.
But the automaker, called AvtoVAZ, over the past two years has cut its workforce by a third, to 43,000 people. The independent AvtoVAZagregat company that produced seats and other interior components for the cars went bankrupt and former employees say they still haven't received back wages.
"Young people do not see any alternative. They are coming to us. They feel they are in a stalemate," said Stepan Filatov, a Communist candidate for the Samara regional parliament that includes Togliatti.
The discontent appears likely to benefit the Communist Party in voting for both the national and regional parliaments.
"Togliatti will vote for the Communists," said Vladimir Zvonovsky, a researcher at the Social Investigation institute in Samara. Two Communists are members of the current regional parliament.
In 2011, the Communists won 20 percent of the seats in the lower house of the national parliament, the State Duma — making them the second-largest party. This year, however, half the seats will be allocated by geographical districts rather than all of them being allocated by party, which could boost the fortunes of candidates attuned to specific local issues.
Here's a gallery of photos by AP's Mstyslav Chernov showing life in Togliatti: