Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE OFF BEAT




Putin received over 50 percent of the vote in the first round of the election and will now become president. No second-round runoff. This is a real shame, as the second-round runoff is where all the action's at - alliances formed and broken, some serious campaigning.


Four years ago, the election was much more interesting. There was an air of uncertainty, people were worried. One Welsh acquaintance was downright scared. "This is serious, the Communists could win and round us all up - I'm leaving," he said as he shoved his gear into his backpack. We never saw him again.


For better or for worse, we decided to head to the heart of the red belt. We booked two tickets to Irkutsk, bought a tent and grabbed some provisions. Best to be deep in a forest when the lightening strikes, we reckoned.


We shared a four-berth coup? with a middle-aged Russian woman and an ethnic Korean man from China.


It was several days into the journey when the vote was held. The train stopped often at provincial Siberian stations, where we heard loudspeaker announcements urging people to vote at the polling booths set up on the platforms.


Suddenly, a babushka in a sun-frock burst into our coup?.


"Have you voted yet?" she demanded to know.


Our Russian cabinmate confessed she hadn't registered to vote away from home.


The babushka was displeased, to say the least, and proceeded to recite a tirade about the evils of communism, of how she'd toiled all her life and what had the Communists given her? Fiddlesticks! She insisted that everyone vote so the same wouldn't happen to them.


We then heard her marching up the corridor, banging on coup? doors, berating people who hadn't voted and unleashing her wrath upon supporters of the Communists.


Then the babushka jumped off the train and headed toward neighboring trains also waiting at the platform. She returned a little later and announced to the whole carriage that she had checked and we were the only "white" train at the station. The other four were all "red." Now, she said, the situation really was serious - everyone must vote!


This week's tip: Boris won - so never underestimate the power of a little agitation.


- Nathan Toohey