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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 December 2007, 18:07 GMT
Festive welcome for Russian voters
As Russians vote in parliamentary elections, two BBC correspondents report on the mood at polling stations in different parts of the country.

ARTYOM LISS IN MOSCOW

At a polling station in Moscow's poor suburb of Butovo, there was full-scale election razzmatazz, Soviet-style.

Patriotic music blaring out of loudspeakers rang across snow-covered streets, bouncing off the walls of post-Soviet apartment blocks.

Food on offer at a Moscow polling station
Polling stations provided food and refreshments at low prices
And the selection of songs was anything but random - not a single track failed to remind voters they belong to "a great historic nation".

Inside, a buffet offered meat pies at eight roubles ($0.30) apiece and tea at one rouble ($0.04) a mug. This is about one-tenth of what most Muscovites would expect to pay on an ordinary day.

All of this was deeply reminiscent of the way Soviet elections worked. Perhaps the only difference was that prices in the buffet were higher - and the choice of political parties was wider.

But then again, just like in the Soviet days, there was never any doubt about who would win.

President Vladimir Putin's party, United Russia, is set for a landslide victory across the country.

For Butovo, a sleepy residential neighbourhood, this was all very good entertainment.

People came in droves, some with toddlers, some even with babies too young to stand up. Mothers would walk into the polling booth, baby in one hand, ballot paper in the other.

'Western interference'

But it was all about to get even more exciting. At 1130 Moscow time (0830 GMT) two cars pulled up outside the polling station.

Andrei Lugovoi casts his vote
A parliamentary seat could make Mr Lugovoi immune from prosecution

Out of one, stepped Andrei Lugovoi, the man accused by British authorities of poisoning former KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

The other car - a huge black four-wheel-drive - appeared to have brought his entourage, including bodyguards.

These days, Andrei Lugovoi is very much a man who likes to stay in the public eye. At the polling station, he was greeted by a small crowd of photographers and cameraman - and Mr Lugovoi did not seem to mind.

"British and American authorities have always been interfering with Russian politics," he told the press. "This time, they sponsor marginal opposition groups who won't even get one-thousandth of 1% of the vote."

Mr Lugovoi's political party, the far-right Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, has a good chance of entering the new parliament. This should give him parliamentary immunity from prosecution.

Money in the bank

But there are quite a few Russians who don't feel at all captivated by the election craze. Many say it's an empty shell of democracy - just like all elections were before the collapse of communism.

At a piste just outside central Moscow, I found two young snowboarders huddling in the snow.

"We didn't bother voting," they told me. "What does it matter if it's all been decided for us anyway? Our votes will not count."

These young Russians were enjoying something President Putin's rule has brought to the country - a relative economic prosperity. Ten years ago, very few would have been able to afford the delights of down-hill skiing.

Now, a new middle-class has emerged. To many young people, politics simply doesn't matter.

As long as there's money in the bank, many say, President Putin and his supporters from United Russia are free to do whatever they want.

RICHARD GALPIN IN KRASNOYARSK

The Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk lies right in the centre of Russia and is regarded as the place to watch if you want to know how the country is going to vote in any election.

Traditionally the result here is the result for the whole of Russia.

Billboard in Krasnoyarsk
Posters in Krasnoyarsk have been reminding people to vote

By Siberian standards, the weather for this election day was warm.

Although the trees were frosted white, it was just -2C. It could so easily have been -20C.

So people started arriving at the polling stations almost immediately after they opened at eight o'clock in the morning.

Initially it was mostly the elderly, some of whom seemed rather confused about how and where they were supposed to vote.

Several picked up their ballot papers and proceeded to mark them with a large cross at an open table in full view of everyone else inside the polling station.

Officials also had to intervene after two people tried to go together into the same curtained-off polling booth.

But otherwise the atmosphere was remarkably relaxed.

Music played continuously in the background and there was a food counter.

Reminders and incentives

The cheap food was just one of many incentives organised by the authorities to encourage a good turn-out.

map

There was also a doctor offering free medical check-ups and a social worker providing free advice on pensions and benefits.

In other areas some lucky voters won prizes.

Across the whole of Russia there was a massive campaign to persuade people to vote.

The government seems to have been nervous that turn-out would be low because so many voters felt the result was a foregone conclusion.

There can be very few people in this country who did not receive a text message in recent days with a reminder that Sunday was election day.

'Voting order'

When we interviewed students outside the polling station in central Krasnoyarsk, just after they had voted, they denied there had been pressure to vote for the ruling party, United Russia.

They said the dean of their university had told them to vote but had also warned them not to accept any offers of money from any party.

And yet last week we were told by a civil servant in the city that she had been ordered to make sure staff in her office voted for United Russia.

Today she informed her director she had carried out the order as required and her staff had called in by midday to say they had cast their ballots for the ruling party.

But it was a lie. She had ignored her director and let her staff vote for whichever party they wanted.



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