Sunday, December 02, 2007

Vote and a Haircut

Yesterday many Russians, over a course of 22 hours due to 11 different time zones, went to the polls to elect their state duma, the lower house. I had been asking my students all week if they planned to vote, but almost all of them had no intention. Many of them weren't originally from Moscow, so bureaucracy mixed with inconvenience was the deciding factor. Others simply felt their vote made absolutely no difference - not due to lack of good candidates, but because of supposed... how do I put this mildy... fraudulent election practices. I'm not sure all that was going on, but I do question the integrity of the Russian government as regards campaigning. My Russian friends/students who did vote all volunteered that they voted for parties which didn't win any seats.

I didn't see or hear a lot of advertising pre-election like we see at home, but I did spot an inconspicuous sign in an obscure area on the wall of a hotel (exactly the centre of Moscow next to red square). It says 'Moscow is voting for Putin!'
These same larger-than-life banners were covering bridges, etc. throughout Moscow and Putin's face is always on the television (state-run) when I waiting in the visitor's area of a student's office building.

Coincidentally, the president's party won by a landslide, with only the communist and pro-kremlin parties taking any seats. New rules made it manditory to have at least 7% in order to be accepted into parliament so seven other parties didn't get in at all.

To be honest, I don't know much about politics, and even less about Russian politics, but there doesn't seem to be much democracy going on here. It's like they make up the rules as they go along.

I haven't heard how many of the 100 million potential voters actually voted, but apparently there were some pretty good incentives... cheap food, coupons, doctors for medical advice, prizes, and even haircuts at some of the polling stations.
I also have no idea how the president will work in both the upper house and the lower house. Can he in be in two houses at once? None of my Russian friends can explain it either, but the upcoming presidential election in March should make for some interesting Moscow Times reading during the cold winter months ahead. And there should be no excuse for uncut hair.