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Russia: Voting For The 'Boss' On Election Day

Russians went to the polls across 11 timezones (RFE/RL) ODINTSOVO, Russia; December 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Despite temperatures of minus-12 Celsius and thick snowfall, there was a festive atmosphere outside school No. 14 in central Odintsovo this morning.

Pop music blared out of speakers placed beside the large tricolor flag on the school roof, and children threw snowballs at each other in the yard.

Swarms of residents, all dressed in their Sunday best, made their way inside to vote in parliamentary elections, which President Vladimir Putin's Unified Russia party is expected to win easily.

This sleepy town, just outside Moscow, is mostly home to Muscovites who have sold their homes in the capital and moved outside the city for bigger apartments and cleaner air.

Fifty years ago, Odintsovo was a village with wooden huts and water wells at the end of each street. Today the huts have been replaced with multistory apartment blocks and one of the wells is now a drive-through McDonald's.

There is a definite feeling of affluence in this town of 150,000. Residents can shop at the Mary Poppins children's wear boutique, or eat out at a dozen or so restaurants, including the Noah's Arc, a wooden three-story affair with life-size giraffes on the roof.

Perhaps as a result, the majority of voters RFE/RL spoke to said they had voted for Putin's Unified Russia party.

"Well, of course I voted for the boss, who else should I vote for?" asked Sergei Sautkin, 77, a retired trolleybus driver. "I don't need any of those other [parties]. I know that the boss should always be the boss. I told everyone at home straight off that I would only be voting for the boss."

Elona Chernyavskaya, a 38-year-old actress, also voted for Unified Russia.

"It’s no secret -- I voted for Putin," she said. "And that's because we've got used to living under him. It's not just that we're used to him, we can see that we have prospects and so we want some sort of stability for the time being. Later on, we'll see."

Other Parties

Inside the school, voting was brisk. Natalia Volosatova, the head of polling station No. 1814, said that by midday, about 20 percent of the 2,700 local voters had cast their ballots.

RFE/RL saw no signs of ballot-rigging, though Sautkin, the retired trolleybus driver, did report that he had had some help filling in his ballot paper.

"I looked at the ballot paper, and I couldn't for the life of me find [Putin] at No. 1. It turns out that he was at No. 10. They said to me, 'Look, there he is at No. 10.’ And I said: 'What should I put there?' And they said: 'Whatever you want, a cross, a tick, whatever you feel like. That's all we need from you,'" Sautkin said.

But though the majority of voters in Odintsovo told RFE/RL they had voted for Unified Russia, some voted differently. They said they were angry that the result seemed to have been decided in advance. A man called Aleksandr, who didn't want to give his last name, said he had voted for A Just Russia, because he felt its policies were closer to the people.

"But it doesn’t matter what happens, Unified Russia will come out on top," he said. "What was the point in voting? Everything has already been decided. Everyone has known what the result is going to be for a long time. What was the point in asking us?"

Anna, a 22-year-old student, said she had voted for the nationalistic Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, even though she said it was unlikely to win any seats in parliament. "I don't like what [Putin is doing]. He says one thing, and then he does another," she said.

Polling stations close at 8 p.m. Moscow time and the first results are expected soon after. Nashi, a youth group funded by the Kremlin, has already announced victory for Unified Russia today and called for voters to take to the streets as soon as the polls closed to celebrate.

It's thought they called the rallies to counteract any demonstrations opposition parties might have planned to protest the vote.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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