Early Voters Support a Just Russia

ReutersA woman leaving a booth at a polling station in Stavropol on Sunday.
STAVROPOL -- At first it seemed Polling Station No. 59 would be a hotbed of support for A Just Russia.

A trickle of mostly elderly voters emerged from the station in Stavropol on Sunday morning onto an icy sidewalk. Many said they had backed A Just Russia, the pro-Kremlin party created by Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov as a center-left alternative to United Russia.

"The current regime has hurt pensioners," said Yury Potapov, a retired construction worker. "They've increased benefits, but very little."

A Just Russia has a strong foothold in Stavropol, having scored a rare victory against United Russia in regional parliamentary elections in March.

But the party was damaged last week by a flurry of legal attacks against its leading candidate from the region, Stavropol Mayor Dmitry Kuzmin.

First, prosecutors charged Kuzmin with corruption. Then, a senior police official held a televised news conference to announce that investigators had found Nazi regalia in his office -- which is just down the street from Polling Station No. 59. Finally, Kuzmin's name was crossed off the ballot after the Supreme Court ruled that he had broken campaign laws.

But if the legal assault was meant to help United Russia, it backfired in the case of Mikhail Mudrov, a retired engineer who backed A Just Russia out of sympathy for Kuzmin.

"I was planning to vote for the Communist Party," Mudrov said. "But when I read about all these searches, it made me really angry."

As the day went on, the ice melted and younger faces appeared at the polling station. A Just Russia's stranglehold seemed to weaken, with voters saying they backed various parties, including the Union of Right Forces, the Communists and, of course, United Russia, whose federal ticket was led by President Vladimir Putin.

"I voted for Putin -- not for the party, but for Putin," said one woman, who hurried away without giving her name.

Another Putin supporter was Vasily, the young policeman assigned to defend the polling station from terrorists, a job that mainly involved shooing away drivers attempting to park their cars near the entrance.

Vasily, who declined to give his last name, said a bureaucratic problem nearly kept him from voting. As a native of the Krasnodar region enrolled at the Stavropol police academy, he initially needed to go home to vote, like many of his fellow students.

But help came from United Russia's No. 1 candidate on the Stavropol ticket, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu. "Shoigu came, and within a week we were all registered," Vasily said.

Vasily said he would have voted for Putin anyway. "He's been in power for eight years, and things have been all right," he said. "Hopefully that will continue."