Russian Elections: Free travel and council graffiti win tired voters

Verdict of the cities: Yeltsin's health, worries over Lebed's rise and boredom with polls fail to erode president's support

Despite his famous victory, Boris Yeltsin, struggling anew with health problems, would at first have taken little cheer from the sight of his voters trudging to the polls in St Petersburg, one of his main strongholds. Many of those who braved a rain-soaked day looked as if they were being forced to take a dip in one of the chilly-looking nearby canals.

This elegant city, home to much of Russia's liberal intelligentsia, finally seems to be sick of politics. "People have had it up to here," said Yevgeny Galovanov, an election official, as he watched people trickle slowly into his polling station.

It's hardly surprising. In the last seven months St Petersburg has gone to the polls five times - once for a parliamentary election, twice for the presidential contest and twice to determine a particularly cynical tussle for the city governor's job.

A communal weariness, underscored by other issues, such as organised crime, a sluggish economy and liberal outrage over Mr Yeltsin's handling of the Chechen war, was reflected in the turn-out last month. Only 62 per cent took part in the first round of the presidential election, 8 per cent less than the national average.

If Mr Yeltsin's advisers believed that non-voters would finally rally round the President in yesterday's run-off, they knew it would not have been with much enthusiasm.

This is not because of a lack of effort by the Yeltsin campaign. Although Mr Yeltsin secured a big victory here, almost 50 per cent in the first round, his advisers knew well that a low turn-out would have been ominous: Communist voters tend always to vote, while Mr Yeltsin's support seemed to be far less predictable. They also know that St Petersburg is a bastion ofGrigory Yavlinsky, the liberal economist who grudgingly backed Mr Yeltsin. It was by winning over many of these voters that he was able to ensure victory

Hence, the thousands of copies of a free paper called "Vote!" that circulated in the city's metro system, carrying appeals from celebrated local writers and artists. The city even arranged for graffiti to be painted on walkways, bearing technicolour warnings to the city to "Vote or Lose", and there was free travel on the city's public transport system throughout yesterday's national holiday.

Most voters knew something was amiss with Mr Yeltsin's health, although it was heavily played down by much of the media, which only made occasional references to his "sore throat", and latterly, his "cold". Years of Communist censorship have taught Russians to read between the lines. Like others, Vladimir Korobkov, a dancer with the Maly Theatre, had reservations about Mr Yeltsin and watched with alarm the rise of retired general Alexander Lebed. "The man's is a dictator," he said.

Alexander Kulakov, a driver, voted for the general in June, but yesterday decided not to turn out. "I thought I was voting for a military man, not a would-be president. I don't like all the power he is getting," he said, "It's not democratic".

In the first round, Dmitry Maksimov, an engineer at St Petersburg's giant Kirov factory, voted for Mr Yeltsin, believing he would win overwhelmingly. Yesterday he supported Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist.

"I would have voted for Boris Nikolayevich if it had not been for all those silly anti- Communist movies on television," he explained. "I don't reject my past. They showed an old lady in a campaign advertisement, saying 'I live well now', when I know she does not."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
News
UK Border Control
i100
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Membership Sales Advisor

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Teleradiology s...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator - Out of Hours

£19000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Telera...

Recruitment Genius: Receptionist / Office Administrator - Full or Part Time

£14600 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established in 2003 the company...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
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