Russians are choosing a president for the fifth time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, 20 years ago. Opinion polls indicate Vladimir Putin is considered the leading candidate for a job that could keep him in the Kremlin through 2018.
In voting from the Pacific to the Baltic, turnout appears strong. Three months ago, Russia’s parliamentary elections were clouded by charges of widespread fraud. To combat fraud this time, more than 200,000 people are volunteering as poll watchers, and one million more are registered to watch the voting on web cameras installed in all of Russia’s polling places.
At a Moscow school, Alexander Pavlovsky, a 37-year-old advertising account manager, explains why he has volunteered:
Planning to stay with the vote count through the night, he says he wants Russia’s next generation to only know clean and democratic elections.
Judging by the steady flow of voters, many in fur coats and hats, it appears that, after a winter of controversy over the parliamentary elections, turnout for the presidential contest is strong.
Maria Tarasova, a history teacher at the school, presides over the local voting committee. She says three months of national furor over fraud accusations brought two changes to her local voting station.
She says there are more citizen observers and there are two web cameras. Anyone with an Internet connection can watch the voting process live.
About one-half of Russian adults now use the Internet, a new factor in this election.
Vitaly Chobanu, an Internet user and first time voter, said he was voting for the new face in the five-candidate presidential race - Mikhail Prokhorov.
He says he likes Prokhorov’s pro-business, pro-democracy stance.
Support for Prokhorov also came from Olga Mikhailova. Dressed in a fur coat, she runs a small business that sells fur coats.
She says she liked Putin, but says running a small business has become increasingly difficult. She says she hopes that Prokhorov, a businessman, “will change something because it feels like we're being strangled.”
But two middle aged men coming quickly out of the polling station said they voted for Putin, who served two terms as president before becoming prime minister.
Why? Asks one. For stability.
Lyudmila Elbakri, a retired economist, lingers to talk.
She says she lived through the stagnation years of the 1970s under long ruling Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
She says she voted for Prokhorov. At age 75, she said Russia should not stop, it needs changes.
If Putin wins today’s vote, he will begin a six-year term in May. After that, he would be eligible to run for a second six-year term, a move that would put him at the top of Russian politics for a quarter-century.