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Putin webcams entertain Russia without enlightening
Webcams set up at Russian polling stations provide entertainment material instead of proof of transparency
AFP , Sunday 4 Mar 2012
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Russia
Head of a local electoral commission stands in front of a webcam, attached to a wall to show a live broadcast, and demonstrates a protocol, containing the results, after counting ballots at a polling station in the village of Sliznevo outside Russia's Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Sunday, (Photo: Reuters).

The webcams ordered by Vladimir Putin to ensure transparency in elections did a good job Sunday in keeping Russia amused with quirky scences but failed to erase suspicions about the process.

Disco dancing, children fighting and lovers kissing were among the sights glimpsed by Russians watching the live relays of the election process from the pair of webcams installed in 95,000 polling stations around the country.

Putin -- who is expected to easily win the election -- ordered the setting up of the webcams after reports of fraud in December parliamentary polls sparked mass protests against his rule.

But while the webcams certainly offered an unusual insight into the intricacies of daily life in Russia, the relatively distant and unfocussed pictures hardly realised Putin's aim of lifting all suspicion of fraud.

The cameras went online Saturday well before the opening of polling stations, suddenly making it possible to catch a glimpse of life in the schools, village clubs and other municipal buildings that usually host the polls.

Some showed school in session Saturday, with little boys getting into fights and rolling on the floor. A polling station in Moscow showed a couple necking on a bench set up in the hall next to the ballot box.

But election monitors have said footage from the cameras will be difficult to use as admissible evidence in court and most cameras have been set up too far away from the ballot boxes to see any sharp details beyond the fuzzy feed.

In Sasovo, a town in the Ryazan region south of Moscow, women with permed hair and low-cut necklines were seen dancing the night away to the sounds of Russian disco music late Saturday.

In Siberia's Tyumen, a man called Nikolai was celebrating his birthday at the balloon-decorated polling station Saturday evening, with the camera showing a long table overflowing with food and bottles of alcohol.

The decor turned more austere on Sunday as the tables were cleared to make way for the ballots.

Twitter users made fun of the live dramas, creating links to the most interesting feeds, rooting for people fighting and pretending to ask the disk jockeys to change the music.

The deputy head of the Russian central election committee Leonid Ivlev complained that some people swore at the cameras in an attempt to broadcast their sentiments to a wider audience and become a "superstar".

"Everybody wants to be a superstar. It's one chance on election day when voters can feel like superstars -- they are filmed and put on the Internet," he said, Interfax reported.

The mood was tense at polling stations in the region of Chechnya in the Caucasus -- still beset by unrest blamed on Islamists -- showing muscular men in camouflage silently sitting hunched over tables Saturday evening.

Many cameras in Russia's Caucasus were not working at all on Sunday, while others showed much denser crowds than stations in Moscow.

One station in Chechnya however was the most popular among Internet users, showing the living room of a private home in the village of Mesedoi that had been turned into an official polling station for the day.

It showed oriental carpets on the wall and a bespectacled woman filling out forms behind a dining table. A six-year-old boy showed off his drawings while a six-month-old squealed with joy and bumped into the ballot box in his baby walker.

"We have 100 per cent turnout: we asked everyone to come and everyone came," the station's head was heard telling an acquaintance on the phone in the feed.

"It's fun here, like a feast. People came to hang out with their relatives."





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