Russians brave cold in nine time zones for polls
From cities on the shores of the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean, Russians braved the winter cold across nine time zones Sunday to vote in parliamentary polls expected to hand victory to Vladimir Putin's ruling party.
Many expressed their support for United Russia which has dominated the State Duma for the last years, although others openly called for an end to its grip on power.
In Moscow, elderly pensioners bundled in winter coats made up the bulk of morning voters, braving freezing winds to visit a polling station decorated with Russian and city flags.
"They came straight after the opening. They are voting very actively," said election official Yelena Yezhukova. "It's mainly older people. I think the younger people will come after lunch. They're still asleep."
Political advertisements vanished from streets ahead of polls in a legal requirement, but posters urging people to exercise their right to vote remained.
In a move that has aroused fury among the opposition, the posters urging people to vote were almost indistinguishable from the advertising for the ruling United Russia.
Polling stations gave another incentive: buffets selling sweet treats at non-commercial prices -- a throwback to Soviet days when they were used to raise the turnout in non-contested elections.
In Moscow, one had a stall selling oranges, apples and persimmons. Another was selling curd cakes for 12 rubles (39 cents) and cabbage pies for 14 rubles.
Nina Soshina, 82, a doctor and professor, queued for pastry treats after casting her vote for the Communist Party, which she said was the only opposition party to have a "clear programme of its actions."
"During the electoral campaign, United Russia's rare statements in the media -- television, newspapers and magazines -- didn't assess their achievements over the previous term objectively. There were too many lies."
Another voter, Nadezhda Soboleva, 37, accompanied by her young son and daughter, said she worried that unused ballots could be used to falsify results, after opposition parties and movements urged voters to turn out.
"I came here to vote because I don't want someone else to use my vote. I do have such suspicions," she said, adding that she was backing the Communists.
In the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, residents filed through the rain to a polling station decked with balloons in the colours of the Russian flag, as music played inside.
"I haven't voted for many years but I forced myself to get up to come here because I don't want United Russia to win," said Leonid Vitavsky, 44, saying he had voted for Yabloko liberal party.
"I've had enough. They don't do anything. I've had the impression for several years that we're living under Brezhnev, with nothing moving," he said, referring to the Soviet leader who presided over a notorious period of "stagnation" in the USSR.
But in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, which was one of the first to cast its votes, Nikolai Ponomaryov, a submarine officer based in the Pacific port, said he voted for Putin's party because he saw changes for the better.
"Already this spring my family will get an apartment in a new district," he said, noting that Putin's party was defending the interests of the army and that he also expected a salary rise from January.
"I link these changes with the work of United Russia," he said as his uniformed colleagues queued outside a polling station early Sunday.
© 2011 AFP