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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bryansk Governor Gets Out the Vote

MTA woman voting as Yefim Shcherbakov and his wife, Tatyana, watch a folk group perform at Polling Station No. 146 in Bryansk.
BRYANSK -- In an attempt to mend fences with the Kremlin, Bryansk's Communist governor reportedly promised a high turnout and at least 60 percent of the vote for President Vladimir Putin. From all appearances, he made good on his word Sunday.

Early regional results indicated that Putin had won 61 percent of the regional vote, while Communist candidate Nikolai Kharitonov trailed with 23 percent, the Bryansk elections committee said.

Election day was a big party in the city of Bryansk, a longtime Communist stronghold of 450,000 inhabitants. Loudspeakers on streetlights played loud folk music between the reminder: "Citizens of Bryansk, don't be passive, go and vote." Folk music also was played live at many polling stations.

Yefim Shcherbakov, 79, and his wife, Tatyana, 75, were among many residents who said they voted for Putin.

"I like him. He is young and he has traveled around the country and the world to learn how people live," Tatyana said, sitting inside Polling Station No. 146 on the central Partisan Square and listening to the folk group Krasnaya Gorka.

She and her husband acknowledged that this was the first time they had voted for a non-Communist. But Putin "deserves to keep his post," Yefim said.

Another voter, Alexander, 25, said he likes Putin's policies. "Usually politicians promise a lot but never keep their promises. Putin never promised anything, but he does a lot. Look at this wonderful sunny day. Even this is thanks to Putin," he said, laughing.

A main concern nationwide about the election is the effort of local authorities to ensure a high turnout -- and Bryansk is no exception, said Lyudmila Komogortseva, an independent State Duma deputy and a well-known human rights activist in Bryansk.

She said the presidential representative in the region, Vladimir Gaidukov, met with local bureaucrats last week, "said he had data on those who had not voted in the recent Duma elections and hinted measures would be taken against those who didn't vote this time."

A woman rushed to the hospital at the Bryansk Car Factory on Sunday morning after suffering a heart attack was not admitted because she did not have the absentee ballot needed to vote from the hospital, Komogortseva said.

Students at the Agriculture Institute in the village of Kokino, 25 kilometers from Bryansk, were not given the usual weekend off to visit their families. They had classes Saturday, and the institute organized a party to celebrate the beginning of spring Sunday. "This is a way of making sure that all students stay at the institute and vote," Komogortseva said.

Post office clerks also worked to increase turnout. Retirees who went to pay bills were told that the city could send staff with ballot boxes to their homes Sunday. "Violations are possible here because the employees might suggest to people unfamiliar with the candidates whom to vote for," Komogortseva said.

Lyudmila Startseva, 78, voted at home but decided to go to Polling Station No. 176 anyway. "It is such a nice day today, and I decided to join the party," she said, listening to pop music playing on loudspeakers outside the polling station. Startseva said she was not advised to vote for any particular candidate. She voted for Putin.

Young people dressed as clowns were in charge of entertaining voters at Polling Station No. 176 -- and the premises were packed with young people who had "come to dance and at the same time vote," said Maria Ivanova, an 18-year-old student.

Ivanova, wearing a black sweatshirt adorned with a marijuana leaf, said she would not have come if it were not for the music. This election was her first, and she said she had voted for Putin.

An older voter, however, said she had voted for Kharitonov. "We only saw Putin on TV. Other candidates were not given a chance. I'm conservative, I've always voted for the Communists, and I'll keep on doing so," the woman said.

Bryansk's longtime governor, Yury Lodkin, has made a name for himself fighting any opposition to the Communist Party, and the festive atmosphere in the region Sunday smelled to some like an attempt on his part to win re-election.

Two years ago, Lodkin even kicked officials with the pro-Putin United Russia party out of their local headquarters, claiming their contract had expired. But after United Russia easily beat the Communists in the Duma elections, he was left with little choice but to help Putin if he wanted to win re-election in Bryansk's upcoming gubernatorial election in December, said Yevgenia Chelyan, a journalist with the opposition weekly Bryanskoye Vremya.

Going into the election, Lodkin promised the Kremlin a high turnout and guaranteed that at least 60 percent of residents would vote for Putin, according to both Komogortseva and Chelyan.

"What better chance to show loyalty than the presidential election?" Chelyan said.

Lodkin confirmed his loyalty to Putin in an interview Saturday. "I'm a member of the Communist Party, but I'm very loyal to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin," he said in his office on Lenin Square.

A picture of the governor and Putin hangs in an elegant wooden bookshelf in Lodkin's office, and a small oil painting of Putin decorates the entrance of the office.

"I back his policies, and here the interests of the Communist Party diverge with my personal point of view in this election," he said.

He said the Communists should have chosen a younger candidate than Kharitonov, "a person who even if he had no chance to win this election" could win in 2008.

Kharitonov did not campaign in Bryansk.

Lodkin did not say whether he had promised the Kremlin a high turnout or a high vote for Putin.

And, on Sunday, he would not say whom he had voted for. "If I said that I voted for the Communist, I would have problems with United Russia. And vice versa," he said.