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Last Updated: Friday, 5 December, 2003, 17:01 GMT
Russians go quiet on elections

By Artyom Liss
BBC, Moscow

The further away from Moscow, the harder it is to find people who would spend any time discussing the December parliamentary elections.

In the bowling arcade in Tyumen, the oil capital of Russia 2,000 kilometres east of Moscow, the talk of the month is the new fashion of throwing balls, with a locally-invented "Siberian twist".

On the election day, it will be the new weapon of choice for participants of the regional bowling championship. The question of what to choose - bowling or voting - does not even come up.

Volunteer distributes leaflets of pro-Kremlin United Russia party
Many people think the pro-Kremlin United Russia is going to win
"No, I am not going to vote," says Sergey, a university student. "The result is obvious anyway - the Kremlin will win".

Outside the arcade, right in the middle of Tyumen's largest residential district, walls are plastered with numerous posters - but even here, nothing suggests that the parliamentary elections are just days away.

Instead, there is a variety of photographs of local politicians running for the city council.

"No wonder everybody is so serious about local elections because this is the only thing which matters," says Marina Sycheva, a reporter with the local radio. "As for the parliamentary - we all know who is going to win anyway."

Leading in the polls in Tyumen is United Russia, the "official" pro-Kremlin party. It is predicted to get over 40% of the vote. The rest will probably be very lucky to get anything above 15%.

"It's all about subtle things," explains Marina Sycheva. "My colleagues in state-owned papers complain that the Governor's office has been monitoring them really heavily in the past few weeks.

"You see, the Governor supports United Russia, number 20 in the election bulletins. So journalists are expected to make sure the number 20 features in one way or another in whatever they write."

Talk

And indeed, the impression one gets from local newspapers is that the pro-Kremlin party is already ruling the country. On each page, you would find a report about supporters of United Russia easily solving every single problem of the locals.

"You see, they work, and the others talk," explains Valery, a taxi driver and keen supporter of United Russia.

This is the most boring campaign we have ever seen
Irina Khanina
supermarket cashier
"I don't care much about politics, and of course I don't mind them shutting some mouths. There's been too much talking in this country - now it's all about to change."

With reports in the local press becoming less and less outspoken, the focus of talking has shifted back to where it used to be during the Soviet era - kitchenettes of small flats in residential districts.

"I would do anything to stop United Russia from winning", says Zhenya, a journalist and a close friend of Marina Sycheva. "This has become my idée fixe."

"But will you vote?" I ask.

"Yes, but I can't see how it will help."

A thousand kilometres further west, in Samara, on the banks of the river Volga, the mood is very similar.

"This is the most boring campaign we have ever seen", says Irina Khanina, a cashier in the local supermarket.

Driving seat?

The last of the economic and political turmoil was seen in Samara years ago. Most people now mind their own business and are not particularly bothered with what is going to happen in the Duma.

Party offers food to potential voters
Offers of free foods enable some parties to attract attention
The talk of the town, in the past few weeks, has been a poster of a certain female candidate. It bears the slogan: "Hey lads, can I do the driving?"

Few remember which party she represents, but this thinking out of the box will surely help her at the ballot boxes: the name is widely known in town.

But below the surface in Samara, the debate between intellectuals and supporters of the Kremlin is probably as heated as further East, in Tyumen.

Whether this is reflected in the vote, still remains to be seen. The general mood is that if change does come from somewhere, it will not be from the ballot box.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Steve Rosenburg
"A Russia so different, so distant from Moscow"



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