Elderly vote in droves for the Communists

Helen Womack in Moscow watched pensioners rushing to take revenge against reformers

Polling station number 67 was doing a brisk trade yesterday morning as the Russian parliamentary election got under way. But most of the people coming to vote in the red-brick primary school in central Moscow were in late middle-age, if not elderly. "Don't worry", said a youth. "The young people will be along when Linda finishes singing on television." He was referring to a new pop star whom the younger generation hails as the Russian Madonna.

While their children and grandchildren were still at home, the old appeared to be voting in droves for the Communist Party. Despite the presence of four policemen and two druzhinki (public-order volunteers) to protect voters against possible Chechen terrorist attacks, there was a festive atmosphere at the polling station as the pensioners gave their verdict on market reforms.

"I have voted for our man, Zyuganov," said a beaming Nina Nikolayevna, referring to the Communist leader, Gennady Zyuganov. "I got great pleasure from it. Of course, we will have to wait and see if [President Boris] Yeltsin will respect the outcome of the election."

Queues built up inside the polling station as many voters donned or changed spectacles to read the ballot paper, long as a menu in a fancy restaurant, with 43 different parties to choose from. But they mostly knew what they were looking for: box 25 - the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.

I stood at the exit for about an hour, and every other person I questioned had voted Communist. The other 50 per cent in my sample had spread their favours among the remaining parties, although I met nobody who had voted for the nationalists Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Alexander Lebed. Oft-repeated was the wish to see "decent" politicians elected.

Lyubov Pavlovna, a woman in her late fifties, said she had chosen the leftist "Power to the People Party" of Nikolai Ryzhkov, a former prime minister under Mikhail Gorbachev, because he was experienced and dignified. "I'm tired of seeing politicians fighting in parliament," she said. An elderly couple, Antonina Vasilievna and Sergei Mikhailovich, had chosen the party of the "little fish", a play on the name of the parliamentary speaker, Ivan Rybkin, because "he's decent and solid". The politician is conservative although not actually Communist.

Polling station 67 did produce at least one vote for a free marketeer. "I chose [Yegor] Gaidar because I have not forgotten the empty shop shelves of the old days," said Alexander, a journalist. But it seemed the reform vote would pick up only if the young people went to the polls.

Voting day began bright and sunny but in the afternoon there was a violent snow storm with thunder and lightning, a rare phenomenon in winter. An anti-Communist friend. "It's a sign from the gods", he said. "Time to switch off the television and go out to vote."

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