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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Muscovites Shrug Off Yeltsin Illness

Despite President Boris Yeltsin's unsettling disappearance from public view over the last week of the campaign, Muscovites seemed to dismiss the issue of his health as they cast their ballots in the presidential election Wednesday.

"So what if he is sick? He'll get better. He has before," said one elderly woman as she gingerly made her way up the stairs at polling station 575 on Leningradsky Prospekt, pausing on the landing to take a breath. "Besides -- we need him."

The president has avoided the press for the past week, aside from two brief pre-recorded appearances Monday. Wednesday morning he once again dodged television cameras by quietly voting at his dacha.

But voters who came to support the president did not even allow the possibility he had health problems. "Those are just evil tongues trying to start rumors," said Yevgenia Zhmakina, a pensioner. "The transition from one system to another is always difficult. But now we've lived through the most difficult part, and so has Yeltsin. Things will get easier for him."

"We just saw Yeltsin the other day on television, and he was in fine form," said Tatyana Dmitrichenko, a factory worker. "It is only appropriate that he should take a break from the cameras. Why shouldn't he rest?"

A high voter turnout was generally expected to help Yeltsin, but initially voting was slow, partly due to the consecutive screening on Russian Public Television of three episodes of the popular Brazilian soap-opera "Tropikanka." But this was all part of a plan to increase turnout later in the day, keeping viewers in town watching television rather than going to visit their dachas. The plan appeared to work: After 11 a.m., when the show finished, voters came in waves.

Moscow electoral officials were also doing their best to get out the vote. Volunteers took mobile polling booths to invalid voters. For voters in transit, shuttle buses ran from all the major train stations to the nearest polling both.

Polling stations were all staffed by independent observers and, at least in Moscow, they seemed confident that ballot fraud was unlikely. Alexander Salunov, a Communist Party observer at the polling station on Ulitsa Pravdy, said, "At this polling station I'm sure there will not be any violations."