RUSSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS: Democratic Fervour Fades in the Sunshine

Article excerpt

Boris Yeltsin lost at least one vote yesterday because of the "dacha factor". Vitaly Matveyev, a musician from Moscow who was relaxing at his dacha (hut and allotment) in Druzhba, south of the city, had planned to get up early and take the the suburban train to the capital to re- elect the Russian President, especially since public transport was free on election day.

But when he woke and saw the sun was shining after two days of torrential rain, he changed his mind. "I'll stay here and take my kids into the woods instead," he said. What about the fate of Russia? "What will be, will be. "It's in the hands of the gods. I don't think my little voice will make much difference." Typical Russian fatalism, typical Russian susceptibility to mood, which is why experts told us not to set too much store on polls showing Mr Yeltsin having overtaken his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov.

The President's fate will depend on the rest of his supporters being more committed than Mr Matveyev: on any summer weekend, 20 per cent of urban Russians are out of town. In view of the Russian preference for not taking anything for granted, it was surprising Mr Yeltsin last week announced, like a bumptious sportsman, that victory was in the bag. It was an invitation to his constituency to be complacent.

Anti-Yeltsin voters, many from the older generation, were thought more likely to go to polling-stations because they lived through Soviet times when voting, albeit for a single candidate, was a citizen's sacred duty.

Yesterday Mr Matveyev's father was up at 6am for an hour's walk over muddy fields to the bus which would take him into the nearby town of Kolomna to vote. A pensioner and lifelong Communist who has found economic reforms hard to accept, he was planning to vote for the nationalist retired general, Alexander Lebed. …