For Maria Borisova, it was a special occasion; casting her first vote.
The young woman, hailing from Vladivostok but now living in Varkala, was among the 15 voters who lined up at the Honorary Consulate at the Russian House here on Sunday to vote in the elections to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament.
“I’ve been here for three years now, after my marriage,”’ explains Ms. Borisova who met her future husband Nandu during a trip to Kerala. “’I’ve never voted before. This is my first,”’ she says with a laugh.
Ahead of the elections in Russia scheduled from September 17 to 19, the Honorary Consulate here had arranged a polling station for the Russian citizens in Kerala. Sunday’s turnout consisted mostly of Russians residing in Varkala and Kovalam in Thiruvananthapuram district.
Consulate authorities, who had made travel arrangements for the voters, attributed the low turnout to the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent dip in the number of Russian tourists visiting Kerala.
“’Usually we have around 30 to 40 voters. This is in fact the fourth time we have had a polling station at the Honorary Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram. We had it for the Russian presidential elections in 2013 and 2018 and once for the 2016 elections to the State Duma,” Ratheesh C. Nair, Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation, said.
Unlike in the Indian elections, there were no electronic voting machines (EVM), voter verifiable paper audit trail machines (VVPAT) or the indelible ink anywhere in sight. The Russian voters, after producing their passports, exercised their franchise on ballot papers. That said, the Russian elections shared one important factor with its Indian version; the pandemic protocol.
The ballots would be despatched to Moscow via the Consulate General of the Russian Federation, Chennai, and counted after the elections are over.
Thiruvananthapuram was the fourth location where arrangements were made for Russian citizens in India to vote, Sergey Lagutin, Consul, Russian Consulate, Chennai, said.
“The first one was in Auroville, the second in Visakhapatnam, and the third was at the Nuclear power project at Kudankulam,” Mr. Lagutin, who was one of the officials who supervised the polling, said.
“We are glad to note that despite all the difficulties due to the pandemic, people have fulfilled their civic duty,” he added.
In all, 450 seats are up for grabs. In half of them, ‘deputies’ will be elected from the federal constituencies of 85 federal subjects which include Oblasts, republics, regions and federal cities. For the remaining 225 seats, votes will be cast for political parties. Depending on their vote share, the parties will then propose deputies to the State Duma. In the fray are 14 parties including the ruling party United Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
“This is the first time I’m voting in India,” quipped Alla Muravyeva, a psychologist from Volgograd, after casting her vote on Sunday. Ms. Muravyeva, who is staying at Varkala, had arrived in Kerala before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alexei Tarasov, Vice Consul, Chennai; and Kavitha Nair, assistant director, Russian House, also supervised the election process. The Russian voters dispersed after a lunch organised by the Honorary Consulate.
Polling will be held in Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi on September 19.