Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Aviation town turns left

Four years ago, Zhukovsky, a scientific town 40 kilometers southwest of Moscow, was solid United Russia territory. But now that’s changed.

In the 2007 State Duma election, the town produced a 50 percent vote for the pro-Kremlin party, but this Sunday the Communists topped the poll, leaving United Russia in third.

According to a Communist member of Zhukovsky’s election commission, United Russia’s vote plummeted to just under 20 percent this time around. The Communists won 31 percent, and Just Russia came second with 21 percent, protocols from the town’s precincts say. Officials are holding off on announcing the overall result, saying they have to hold two recounts in local precincts.

Zhukovsky, a traditional center of Soviet aircraft engineering, has been struggling to survive in the last two decades.
Yury, a former engineer at one of the town’s key enterprises, the Gromov Flight Research Institute, came Sunday to a polling station to cast his ballot for the Communist Party. A sprightly man in his seventies, Yury reminisced about the glorious days of Soviet science: “Our institute used to have 15 helicopters for tests in the 80s, while only one is available now.”

The time United Russia’s support began to slip in Zhukovsky can probably be linked to a contested mayoral election in 2009, when United Russia member Alexander Bobovnikov won office by a few hundred votes after results at polling stations where he polled badly were canceled.
Local media at the time reported up to 3,000 people protesting in Zhukovsky’s Lenin Square in a series of rallies, but as a court challenge to the vote dragged on, the contested ballot papers reportedly vanished.

Challenged by the Communists to debates in this election, the local branch of United Russia has repeatedly declined to take part, with one of its candidates, Oleg Borisov, canceling, citing his busy schedule. At the debates, one of the people in the audience jokingly offered to play devil’s advocate and talked on behalf of Borisov, who was lambasted that evening,
Many locals say they prefer to judge parties by their actions, rather than political scandals, however.

Yaroslav, a tourism student, said at a polling station Sunday that he saw little difference between the parties. “United Russia and the Communists are very similar to me,” he said. “All I can say is that I’d better live in a monarchy, where we wouldn’t have to choose between parties. They always promise a lot, but never deliver it.”

Denis, a 20-something town hall employee, was deployed to a polling station as a monitor. “If I bothered to vote, I’d vote United Russia,” he said. “Who else to vote for, if not Putin? Are there any other leaders with charisma in Russia?”

Recognition appeared to be a factor with some voters.

Some elderly people with poor eyesight asked their relatives accompanying them at the polling station to show where Putin or Medvedev were on the ballot paper.

In Zhukovsky, not many people are big on the liberals, with many voters preferring Communists or socialists.

Georgy Buklaga, an election commission nominee from the nationalist LDPR, said: “To me, liberals are renegades. They were in power in the 90s and brought the country to its knees. If they ever come to power again, they’ll steal what they can and flee abroad.”
Many of Buklaga’s fellow election commissioners were teachers. When asked how they felt about United Russia, many said that they never had their salaries raised, which the party had promised, and that the local administration only tightened the screws, subjecting teachers to regular tests and sending them to obligatory training courses they had to pay for themselves.

The issue of possible voting fraud was a concern among local election officials.

Each time a monitor would step in with a query, Tatyana Vorotnikova, the commission’s chief, who works as a teacher, cut them short.

“How much are the Communists paying you?” she asked a monitor from the Communist Party, indignantly telling her off for standing too close to the table at which commission members counted ballots.

“I’m working for free,” the monitor replied.

“Come on, I don’t believe you,” Vorotnikova said. “We’re living in Russia, after all.”

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