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Russia votes as violence looms

 

SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Moscow, March 5, 2012 00:44
Tags : moscow elections 2012 | vladimir putin | Kamchatka | Magadan region | Gennady Zyuganov | |
 
It is not easy to conduct polls in Russia; physically or otherwise. To start with, you need to negotiate with the 11 time zones that the country has. After that is settled, you need to coordinate the foreign ballots that are cast in Russian Embassies and consulates all over the world.
 
That also has a time zone issue. After settling both of them, you also need to take care of absentee ballots, the ballots that people use to vote in cities where they presently reside but are not on the voting chart. This takes care of the logistics part. Now comes the physical terrains.
 
The arrangements in Siberia or for that matter Caucuses is a pain in itself. When all of this is settled, the problem of tallying starts. Time zones again play a spoilsport here.
 
Polls here is opened from 8am to 8pm in each time zone, with the first opening in the Far East of the country at 20:00 GMT on Saturday, and the last in the western Kaliningrad region closing at 17:00 GMT on Sunday.
 
In fact, the Far East started voting at midnight Moscow time, with the Chukotka, Buryatia and Magadan regions joining gradually in that order, followed by towns on the Eastern flanks of Siberia, and then the Siberian hinterland.
 
It was followed by the Urals that opened polls at 6 am Sunday morning Moscow time, followed by central Russia. And as I file the story, the western limit of Kaliningrad has polled for less than a couple of hours.
In Moscow, since morning, long queues were witnessed in almost all the major areas including Kropotkinskaya, Perovo, Rechnoi Vokzal, Mayakovskaya and Sokolniki.
 
In many of the areas, polling agents confirmed TSI that they were seeing comparatively more young voters than any of the previous elections in the near history. Although Moscow presented a rather rainbow of opinion on the contestants, as expected, Vladimir Putin appeared to be an obvious choice. 
 
Voting near the famous Cathedral at Kropotkinskaya, Bogdan Avtukhov, 27, admitted that he was voting for the first time. “I have always considered election day as the day for fun. But this time, I decided to come and show my support for Prime Minister Putin. He is being maligned by the west and their supporters here. I want my vote to count.” Bogdan is a computer engineer by training and believes that Putin’s years of stability have brought good economic prospect for the youngsters like him. 
 
Others appeared less merciful. With her face in Russian colours, Vladlena Afonina, 42, is a diehard supporter of billionaire candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, who, although a novice in the political arena, is set to play a long inning. Talking to TSI outside a polling station at a school near Mayakovskaya, Afonina insists that her life has turned “hell” because of the regular bribes she has to offer to officials.
 
A trainer at a private institution in Moscow, Afonina believes that Prokhorov will bring the “winds of change”. “People like me count. Next election, when you are here you’ll find Russia in a different mood.” In a way, she has given a walkover to Putin in these elections.
 
Meanwhile, close to 36,000 personnel, including 16,000 cops, 14,000 volunteers, over 4,000 of private guards and as many as 2,000 odd trainees from police academies have been called to Moscow to maintain the security and law and order today and the day after. 
 
There is a possibility of violence as opposition and pro-Kremlin bodies have planned their rallies in nearby squares. Members of the pro-Kremlin groups, Nashi, Rossiya Molodaya as well as the youth outfit of Putin’s United Russia party, Molodaya Gvardia have planned to take out rallies at some of the most popular venues such as Manezhnaya, Lubyanskaya, Teatralnaya, Bolotnaya and Revolution squares.
 
On the other hand, even before the closure of the polls, the opposition groups have declared the election illegitimate and have planned to do a protest rally tomorrow at Pushkinskaya Square. 
 
As many as 200,000 volunteer poll watchers are keenly watching the polls in order to avoid allegations of fraud and rigging like those the opposition levelled against the Duma polls.
 
To add to that, another 600,000 Internet users have registered to monitor web cameras installed in all of Russia's nearly hundred thousand polling stations. .However, on their part, opposition groups have said that this means nothing. It appears that the protest is pre-planned whatever be the result. 
In fact, talking to the media, Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov called planned protests against an election that has not yet concluded “complete stupidity”. 
 
“In our country we are planning demonstrations against something that has not yet taken place. That is complete stupidity. Let's proceed from the idea that just as there is a presumption of innocence for a person, which is the supreme achievement of law, then there should also be a presumption of legitimacy for elections,” he maintained.
 
As I file the story, almost 63 percent of the voting had already been done and polls in Moscow was about to close in less than an hour. 
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017