I remember when I was a child, I would sometimes accompany my parents to the voting stations on election day – which would always be at the local government school – I remember armed soldiers and the reserve police force occupying the whole area as scores of people lined up to choose their government. I guess the scenery is still the same In India – although I have not seen an election center for many years now.
It was not uncommon in east India where I grew up to hear stories of political violence and people getting hurt or killed because of clashes between opposition parties – a democracy, after all, may get messy sometimes. Maybe that’s why I have always been wary about “election day,” and this was my first election in a foreign land.
My wife and I usually take a walk on the beach every evening or at least we try. The black sea looks incredible during the sunset, but I suppose most seas do. I asked my wife who is she going to vote for – she looked at me with surprise and said she hadn’t decided yet – I asked “you are voting for Putin, right ?” she said “I don’t know yet, there is this other guy who is young and has similar ideology as the president, maybe I will vote for him” – I went into panic “its better if you don’t vote” – I said, “what if the government is making a list of all the people who are voting against them” – She laughed and said “you, my friend, are paranoid”- We stayed on the beach until the sun went down.
Every day I saw more and more advertisement about various candidates asking people for their vote, and there were tons of billboards all over the explaining the importance of the day – My wife asked me to accompany her and my mother in law to the polling station – I didn’t know what to expect, but I decided to go anyway.
Let me give you some facts about the presidential election that took place on the 18th of March in Russia. I found out in my research that there were seven candidates in the 2018 presidential election, apart from Vladimir Putin – Sergei Baburin (59) from the “all peoples union”, Pavel Grudinin (57) from the “Communist party” – who claimed he will shave off his moustache if he failed to garner 15 percent vote in the election and since he could only secure 11.77 percent “it” had to be taken off, Vladimir Zhironobsky (71) from “liberal democratic”, Ksenia Sobchak (36) from “Civic initiative”, Maxim Suraykin (39) from a party called “Communists of Russia”, Boris Titov form the “Party of growth” and Grigory Yarilinsky from “Yabloko”.
The government claims that 67.54% percent of the population turned out on election day and Vladimir Putin won the election with 76.69 percent of the vote. The organization for security and cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said that the election took place in an overly controlled environment. The Chicago Tribune reported – people were forced to vote and many feared that they would lose their job if they didn’t. I would like to make it clear here, I asked my friends in Russia if they were forced or had any fear that they might lose their jobs if they failed to prove that they have voted – most of them laughed at the question, all of them denied, and some close ones abused me for my stupidity.
Now let me give you an account of what I saw on the election day – we woke up early and my wife announced that we would go around afternoon to the polling station and then go straight to our friends – as we were walking to the venue, I noticed an unusually high number of people on the street that day, some walking to the beach, some to the nearby shopping district – the mood was definitely festive – either because of the election or for the fact that it was 18 degrees outside.
I expected to start already seeing armed guards by the side of the road – I checked my pockets to see if I took my passport – I did. As we came close to the polling station, the beautiful smell of grilled meat hit my nose – I was not sure we had reached the right place because I saw kids playing in a circle, a group of men nearby were grilling meat – chairs were put outside by the neighboring shops so that people could sit, I saw a couple of vendors from the local market selling refreshments and fruits – there were balloons all over the place – We reached the gate of the building where the voting was taking place, my wife asked me to come inside but I preferred to stay out – Two teenagers came and asked me if they could click a picture with me, I nervously said yes.
I saw a lady police officer standing by the door – I was wearing a shirt which said “I was the hemp ambassador” – I walked away slowly only to be stopped by our neighbors – they asked, how I was doing, I answered as much as I could in my broken Russian.
As the old neighbors walked away I looked again at the people gathered outside – the women, the children, men – old and young, laughing – greeting each other –there was even a list of all the candidate for people to read and a brief of all the promises they have made – Three elderly women stood in front of the list and were discussing something amongst themselves – I thought to myself “I don’t see anybody who was forced to come here or who is here because they are scared”, “I don’t see any guns”, “why was I scared ?” and I decided to write an account of what I saw that day on my blog.
My wife and my mother in law came out soon after – we started walking back towards the bus stop – I asked my wife “so who did you vote for?” she looked at me with a smile and said, “that’s a secret” – It has been 2 weeks since that day, she hasn’t told me yet, and it still bothers me.