Almost 260,000 Russian nationals voted early in Russia's presidential election, an election commission official said on Sunday.

“Overall, 259,017 people in 37 Russian regions and abroad voted early in the election,” Central Electoral Commission Deputy Chairman Leonid Ivlev said, adding that 177,350 Russians had voted early in Russia and 81,667 abroad, RIA Novosti reported.

Russia held early voting in the 2012 presidential elections from February 17 to March 3. In the 2008 presidential elections, 188,421 Russians voted early, including 80,723 people abroad, he said. Russia is holding a presidential election on Sunday to vote for a president for the fifth time in the nation's post-Soviet history.

Five candidates - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, nationalist Liberal Democratic Party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky, A Just Russia Party leader Sergei Mironov and the only independent, billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov – are competing for the Russian presidency in the March 4 vote.

Some 110 million Russian citizens, including 2 million expatriates around the world, are eligible to vote in the presidential election whose winner will serve a six-year term, and not four years as previously.

Putin, who was Russia's president from 2000 to 2008 and has been prime minister since then, has led the race but may be forced into a second round if he gets less than 50 percent of the vote in the first.

The winner in the first round will be inaugurated as president in early May and President Dmitry Medvedev, a junior member of the ruling tandem with Putin, will step down.