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
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
news
Sport
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
News
news
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all