Naked vote in Siberia amid tense security measures

Half-naked people admitted to vote in Siberia while younger voters sober up in Moscow and reporters are barred from polling stations in the North Caucasus.

Ten ice swimming enthusiasts came nearly naked to the ballot stations in the cold Siberian Altai region to vote in the parliamentary elections Sunday.

“Despite the fact that it is minus 9 degrees Celsius outside and every one comes to vote in hats and fur coats, we came in swimming trunks and bikinis,” Alexander Zelenetsky, leader of a local ice swimming association, said.

Russians vote Sunday to elect the lower chamber of parliament in what is widely seen as a test of public trust in Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who is set to win presidential elections in March next year. His United Russia party is the favorite in the race, though it is expected to garner fewer votes than in the previous election in 2007.

Scantily clad voters are apparently a lesser security threat in these elections that are taking place under unprecedented safety measures. A total of 320,000 policemen guard polling stations across Russia’s nine time zones, according to the Interior Ministry. Over 50,000 cops, or more than double of their number at the previous elections to the State Duma, guarded polling stations in Moscow alone.

Four armed police officers watched the vote in Moscow school No. 420 that hosted two ballot offices Sunday morning: one outside the entrance, one in the lobby and two in each ballot room. Another three burly voluntary citizen patrolmen scanned incoming voters with their eyes at the school doors.

Radio blared deafeningly inside the ballot room as voters, mainly pensioners, collected their ballots from election officials while two middle-age female observers from the United Russia watched impassively.

Asked  why there were no younger faces seen in the thin trickle of the voters, one female pensioner who identified herself as Lyudmila said that they might appear later in the afternoon.

“Youngsters usually drink on Saturday nights and are still asleep,” she said.

Four hours after 3,374 ballot offices were opened in Moscow, turnout was below 13 percent at noon local time.

Meanwhile, a RIA Novosti correspondent in Vladikavkaz, the capital of Russia’s North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia, was denied entry into a polling station at a local high school, first by private security guards, then by a police officer.

The officer claimed an official from the local election authority had informed him that all journalists must be accredited by the republican election officials. According to the Russian law, a journalist covering elections needs no accreditation to enter a polling station.

According to Madina Guriyeva, а North Ossetian parliament member from A Just Russia party, that particular polling station had already been reported for a slew of election violations.

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