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Last Updated: Sunday, 7 December, 2003, 23:22 GMT
Tea while you vote in Moscow
By Tara Reeve and Max Delany
BBC Moscow Bureau

Even the snow did not deter them. From the early hours of the morning, voters began pouring into Moscow's polling stations.

There had been worries about apathy here, that turnout would be low, but in the capital there were long queues, even crowds of people, from early morning, all anxious to do their duty.

The 25% minimum barrier was reached well before midday.

Woman reaches for a free cake in Moscow polling station
Voters could tuck into a bit of free food after casting their votes

At school number 1041 in south west Moscow, which had been converted into a polling station for the day, the mood was festive.

Young girls danced and sang karaoke in the corridors, while pensioners, who made up the majority of voters, queued for the subsidized pies and free tea downstairs, as they did for their democratic right upstairs.

Tight security

"Free tea?" enquired one elderly Muscovite smilingly banging her walking stick on the floor.

"I'll just pop up to vote and then I'll come down for a cup of tea and drink to the future."

Security was expected to be tight following the train bombing in southern Russia this week, but even the policeman on the door was smiling as the airport-style metal detector at the entrance beeped ceaselessly.

He assured us however, that he would be able to tell if anyone was bringing in anything dangerous.

Who are the politicians standing for that party number 20 (United Russia's number)?
Bewildered pensioner in Moscow

The election campaign has been dominated, almost solely, by one party, United Russia, dubbed the Party of Power.

With the backing of the Kremlin, it has had no problem getting its message across.

Posters with the slogan Together With The President have been plastered everywhere, and even in shops, cashiers have been wearing the party's bright yellow caps with pride.

Voices of discontent

At the polling booths, it seemed United Russia had succeeded in pulling in the voters, even though many people did not actually know who they were.

"Who are the politicians standing for that party number 20 (United Russia's number)?" asked a bewildered pensioner trying to make sense of the complicated electoral system.

President Putin apparently had no such problems when he cast his vote earlier in the day.

Most of our deputies don't work for us - they just stand for some financial interests
Young Muscovite

When asked who he had voted for, the president said his preferences were well known. He then left his wife, Lyudmila, to field questions about their favourite Labrador, Connie giving birth the night before.

Later, at a different polling station, voices of discontent could be heard.

"I believe against everyone", a Muscovite in her 20s admitted grimly.

"Most of our deputies don't work for us - they just stand for some financial interests."

Voters look at posters in a polling station
Some voters were confused about the make-up of the leading United Russia party

But despite the protest and despite some support for the smaller, liberal parties, the silent majority seemed to be propelling United Russia to an almost inevitable victory.

The big losers appeared to be the Communists, who looked set to receive a drastically reduced portion of the votes.

With United Russia stealing much of their patriotic, law and order platform, they have continually found themselves lambasted in the media for connections with big business and internal party struggles.

Some voters however still held out hope. One elderly Muscovite proclaimed the Communist party as the party of the future.

But with many of Russia's 100 million voters turning to United Russia, the result seems a foregone conclusion.

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