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Novelties tempt voters to the polls

It is not a presidential election in the conventional sense.

Yes, Russian voters have eight candidates to choose from, ranging from former socialite-turned-democrat Ksenia Sobchak to the millionaire Communist party candidate, Pavel Grudinin.

But everybody knows Vladimir Putin will win.

Over the past 18 years he has built a subservient political regime which supports and promotes his leadership.

His decision to annex Crimea and deploy forces in Syria have bolstered his claim that Russia has re-taken its seat at the world’s top table. “We are a great power and no one likes competition,” he said in a recent interview.

:: Follow the money and you will get to Putin

Vladimir Putin at polling station
Vladimir Putin pictured at a Moscow polling station

It is this electoral certainty – the total absence of suspense – that has made turnout the key test of this election for President Putin. Will Russians leave the comforts of home and vote on what is a bitterly cold and windswept day?

The best-known opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, has instructed his supporters to boycott the event with his #noelections2018 hashtag. Mr Navalny has been banned from competing in the poll due to a previous fraud conviction which he says is politically motivated.

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CCTV shows alleged election violations in Russia

As a consequence of this unsanctioned challenge, the government has been working hard to get the vote out and we have seen plenty of examples of this operation on social media.

Food seems to figure prominently as an inducement at polling stations. A large buffet was put on for residents in the Moscow suburb of Korolov:

“Food is delicious here. Vote and eat in the same place,” says this tweet.

An oversize slab of cake was delivered to ‘polling station number 13’ in the city of Magadan. One internet user posted a video of voters enthusiastically tucking in.

Elsewhere, first time voters were given tickets for pop concerts, older voters were offered free cancer screenings and people posted selfies of themselves at polling stations in the hope of winning prizes.

Considerable sums of government money have been spent on balloons and decorations – and in some cases voters brought the festivities with them. One man in the Buryatia Republic in Siberia decided to dress up as a full-size bear although he did struggle to wedge himself into the voter’s booth.

Worryingly, there have been multiple accounts of ballot box stuffing and ‘forced voting’ – where civil servants and employees at state-run companies were told to vote or risk losing their jobs.

One Twitter user posted a picture from a security camera in a polling station in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and pointed out that there were completed ballots in the ballot box before the station had actually opened. Elsewhere a middle aged man can be seen seemingly stuffing several votes into the securely sealed box.

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