Vladimir Putin's party won a crushing victory in parliamentary elections, paving the way for the authoritarian leader to remain in control even after he steps down as president. Sunday's vote followed a tense Kremlin campaign that relied on a combination of persuasion and intimidation to ensure victory for the United Russia party and for Putin, who has used a flood of oil revenues to move his country onto a more assertive position on the global stage. "The vote affirmed the main idea: that Vladimir Putin is the national leader, that the people support his course, and this course will continue," party leader and parliament speaker Boris Gryzlov said after exit polls were announced. Several opposition leaders accused the Kremlin of rigging the vote, and US President George W. Bush's administration called for a probe into voting irregularities. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov called the election "the most irresponsible and dirty" in the post-Soviet era.