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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How I Nearly Didn't Vote This Weekend

I should confess right off the bat that I drastically reduced my intake of television news during the parliamentary campaign and ignored the debates entirely. When reading the newspapers I made a point of skipping over both political ads and editorials. As a result I have no insights to share into how the media covered the elections or how that coverage influenced the outcome. No one can isolate themselves entirely from the media these days, however, and the campaign waged in the press undoubtedly influenced my electoral behavior, as well.

For example, I knew as early as the summer that I wouldn't vote for United Russia, SPS or the Party of Life. Their ads were all over the airwaves at the time, interrupting my favorite TV shows at the most interesting moments and arousing my animosity. Despite the ads, I could have gone either way on United Russia. I voted for Vladimir Putin back in 2000, and I felt a sort of obligation to support the party to which he had given his backing. But state television was so shameless in its praise of the party bigwigs that I couldn't help feeling that someone was trying to fob defective goods off on me.

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A normal, pro-Western liberal like myself could only vote for the Communist Party in order to stave off an even greater evil. This scenario arose once before, during the 1996 presidential campaign. But on that occasion I encountered what U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow would call a values gap. My wife announced that she could not live with a man who had voted for the "heirs of Stalin," as Yevtushenko once put it. I objected that a corpse was far less menacing than a living maniac with "the Bomb" who had already demonstrated a penchant for shelling elected representatives and the mass murder of Chechens. To save our marriage, we stayed home for both rounds of the vote.

This year there were no obvious threats to democracy. Even the Communists joined their old enemies, the Yeltsin gang, by including oligarch prot?g?s on their federal party list. From that point on, a vote for the Communists ceased to have any meaning -- even as a protest against the demeaning coverage of the party on television.

LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky seemed to appear on every news and talk show on every channel. I have nothing against devoting airtime to a Duma faction leader, even if he is abhorrent. But Zhirinovsky's constant presence on our TV screens owed less to the industry's sense of civic responsibility and more to its love of spectacle (and ratings).

Whenever Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky appeared on the screen, I reached for the remote control. Whatever the topic, you know that Yavlinsky will make his point clearly, effectively and with a strong dose of condescension toward hoi polloi.

The only politician who sparked my interest was Sergei Glazyev. Unfortunately for me (or for him), I happened to see the ad in which he endorses Dmitry Rogozin. I first met Dima Rogozin when he was still working in the Komsomol, and ever since then I have found it hard to take him too seriously. I realize, of course, that a party leader has to sing the praises of his No. 2, but Glazyev's complete lack of irony led me to question his own competence.

I would have stayed at home on Sunday had one form of campaign advertising not had its intended effect on me -- the public service announcements put out by the Central Elections Commission urging us all to get out and vote. I took the ads as an urgent appeal from CEC chief Alexander Veshnyakov himself. To my mind, Veshnyakov is one of the very few government officials who try to do an honest job. It is not my habit to offend upstanding people, so I voted after all. For Yabloko, as usual. The party does little, but it also does little harm.

As I dropped my ballot into the box, I realized that I think of Putin in much the same terms. And this solved my final moral dilemma. By voting for Yavlinsky, I had also voted for the president. Thanks to the media, I fulfilled my moral and civic duty and kept a clear conscience.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals. [www.sreda-mag.ru]