Russian Elections: Brazilian soap keeps public from dachaland

Foreign journalists waited for two hours yesterday to watch Boris Yeltsin vote in Moscow, only to be told that he had cast his ballot beyond the glare of publicity in a village outside the city. Many quickly jumped to the worst conclusions about the health of the president, who had already aroused suspicions by dropping from view in the last days of the election campaign.

Many Russians were unaware that the Kremlin leader had failed to turn up at his usual polling station near his home in the prestigious suburb of Krylatskoye, and had voted instead at Barvikha where he convalesced last year after his two heart attacks. Those who knew took the news in their stride. It was not going to influence voting decisions that they had made weeks if not months ago.

"I have voted for a person whom I do not greatly respect but who will take us forward into the future," said Larissa Sergeyevna, in her late forties, who did not want to reveal the secret of her vote but was nevertheless implying that she had chosen Mr Yeltsin. Did she know that he was apparently ill? "Ah, that's nothing," she said. "We have got used to him disappearing from time to time. He'll be back."

She was one of only a trickle of voters at the polling station on Dostoyevsky Street in central Moscow yesterday morning. To discourage city dwellers from taking advantage of the warm weather and travelling out to their dachas instead of voting, state television was showing a triple episode of a popular Brazilian soap opera, Tropicana. Many people were evidently glued to their sets.

But voting seemed to pick up after lunch. At 2pm there was a livelier flow of people coming from polling station No 2148 in the Akademicheskaya district of the city, and most of them said they had voted for Mr Yeltsin rather than Gennady Zyganov, the Communist leader, despite whatever health problems he might have.

"It's not good news, of course," said Mikhail Vasin, a young businessman, "but I have voted for Yeltsin anyway. I think he will be okay. He's a healthy bloke, a sportsman. So what if he drinks? We all drink, don't we? And even if he has to retire, it won't be the end of the world. He has a good team around him. But Zyuganov - if he wins, that will be the end of the world."

Olga Grigorievna, a doctor, was equally calm after voting for the incumbent president. "We're all people. We can all get colds," she said, showing more faith in the official explanation of Mr Yeltsin's absence than most foreign observers here.

One might have thought that Russians, who lived through the last days of Leonard Brezhnev, when the Kremlin made ridiculous claims that the dying leader had only minor ailments, would have been more inclined to question what they were told. Perhaps strong Yeltsin supporters just did not want to contemplate the worst. For Communists, of course, news that Mr Yeltsin was not well only strengthened their determination to vote for Mr Zyuganov, who last week was ostentatiously dancing and playing volleyball to prove he was in good health.

"I have known Yeltsin since he was in Sverdlovsk [as regional Communist leader in the Soviet era] and I can tell you that his drink problem goes back that far," said Vasily Parfyonov, a retired journalist and Zyuganov voter. "He may be trying to fight his weakness but the passion for alcohol is not curable. Russia needs a healthy leader."

If the president is forced to retire because of ill health, the constitution says the prime minister should take over pending fresh elections. But General Alexander Lebed's appointment as Mr Yeltsin's national security adviser has added a new factor. He has said he favours the revival of the post of vice- president, and clearly aspires to the top Kremlin job for himself.

Yesterday, Yeltsin voters understood that they were choosing a package which included General Lebed, a nationalist and advocate of strict law and order. Some found the situation reassuring; others did not.

"The fact that Lebed is at his side gives me more confidence to vote for Yeltsin," said Valya Zosikova, who spent last year in Cambridge. "Lebed will see that everything is all right."

But Kostya Fadeyev, a student of computer studies, disagreed. "I'm voting for Yeltsin, not Lebed," he said. "I don't want to see Lebed coming in through the back door." He added, however, that he did not think this likely. "Lebed will be out in six months. He's a soldier. He's too straight to survive for long in the Kremlin.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
people
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
News
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
Sport
football
News
i100
News
Perry says: 'Psychiatrists give help because they need help. You would not be working in mental health if you didn't have a curiosity about how the mind works.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?