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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Factory Town Fights Voter Apathy

MTTwo men standing in front of an election notice outside a polling station in Roshal.
ROSHAL, Moscow Region -- In the mud-soaked outdoor market on Sovietskaya Ulitsa, a middle-aged woman in a fur coat leans forward and says she is afraid not to vote.

"They came around collecting signatures," she said, adding that she had heard that those who did not vote might face "difficulties." She would not say who had collected these signatures, but insisted that "many" signatures had been taken.

"You're just supposed to vote," she said. "It doesn't matter who for." Asked if this had happened at work, she replied, "You could say that."

Moments later, her husband, who was shopping with her, pulled her away. She refused to answer any more questions.

Only 43.8 percent of Roshal's eligible voters cast a ballot in December's State Duma elections -- the lowest turnout in the Moscow region, where the average was 10 percentage points higher.

But this time, President Vladimir Putin seemed to be winning the battle against voter apathy. On Sunday, streets around a polling station were bustling. Turnout was "definitely higher than last time," said Tatyana Biro, a polling station worker.

Even so, almost none of those waiting to vote said the outcome of the election would change their lives.

As the afternoon wore on, only a solitary passerby said he was not going to vote.

"Why should I vote?" said Slava, a young man in a leather jacket smoking a cigarette behind a grocery store. "Who's Putin? We'll elect Putin, but things won't get better."

Life has been hard in Roshal, a town of 25,000 people 150 kilometers east of Moscow, since the Soviet-era chemical plant closed down about a decade ago, leaving most residents in grinding poverty. Locals complain of being unable to find work and of living in cramped apartments. Many commute to Moscow to work factory jobs.

A few, though, said things have been getting a little better in the last four years. This winter is the second in a row when the heating has worked properly throughout the town.

"We're for Putin," said Boris Dmitriyevich, 77, who lives on a pension of 2,200 rubles per month ($77). "Putin didn't bankrupt the chemical plant. Yeltsin did."

Still, few could cite any concrete improvements in their lives since the end of the Soviet Union.

"I don't think anyone here makes more than 3,500 rubles," said Nadezhda Venediktovna, standing behind the counter in a candy stall in the market. "And most make less. People here are just so poor, they don't believe in anything."

Nadezhda Venediktovna said although she was not sure why, everyone seemed to be voting for Putin. "Well, who else is there?" she asked. "Putin's already won."

"I saw someone on television who looked like a good candidate," said a customer who declined to give her name. On further reflection, though, she said she could not remember who it was. She had only seen him once.

"I would vote for [Vladimir] Zhirinovsky, if he were running," said Dmitry, a young man, who like the others declined to give his last name. "But [Oleg] Malyshkin? Who is he -- Zhirinovsky's bodyguard or something? I won't vote for him."

Dmitry said he had already voted for Putin.