MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED From NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
The presidential election is 16 months away and already the campaign is in hyper-drive - debates, stump speeches, even attack ads.
BLOCK: Well, here's a very different image. In Russia, there is no visible campaign and the election is less than a year away. It's no secret that the president and prime minister will essentially decide the winner behind closed doors.
NPR's David Greene took a trip to find out what Russians think about their democracy.
DAVID GREENE: Russia is like the U.S. in one way. For a true sense of what people are thinking, it's better to leave the capital. So I hopped on a train out of Moscow, and stepped off two hours away, the industrial city of Tver.
(Soundbite of a train)
GREENE: This isn't just a railroad town. Tver builds the railroad. Their pride and joy is a sprawling factory that produces railcars. It's where this man works.
MIKHAIL: (Russian language spoken)
GREENE: The 42-year-old would only give his first name, Mikhail. I sleep better the less people know about me, he said. He sounds like a holdover from Soviet times, and in many ways, he is. He still lives in the apartment assigned to him by the Soviet government, so there's no rent or mortgage. Mikhail supports his wife and two daughters making $700 a month building rail cars. Life isn't easy, but Mikhail said he lives by a lesson: Change can only be for the worse.
So in this March's presidential election, he's happy to support the status quo. Either re-elect President Dmitri Medvedev or vote for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. It's just a matter of those two men deciding which name goes on the ticket.
MIKHAIL: (Through Translator) If I could, I would vote for both of them. It doesn't make sense to vote for anyone else. It's better to have someone who is tested or else someone new will come along and start making a mess.
GREENE: Chances are, nobody new is coming along. Putin, who served eight years as president before stepping down, is considering a comeback. As for Putin's protege, President Medvedev has been mum about his plans. The assumption is that the two of them will decide together who gets the nod.
As for anyone else, the government routinely bars opposition parties. And organized rallies are against the law, unless they're sanctioned by the government. So whoever it is on that ballot, Putin or Medvedev, the person is expected to coast. That doesn't sit well with everyone.
PAVEL: (Russian language spoken)
GREENE: A 28-year-old named Pavel, who feared giving his last name in an interview would get him punished at work, says Russia's leaders have done little to brighten the future for young people. Pavel does not live in Soviet-era housing, and he said he has a costly mortgage on his apartment because the government lets interest rates climb out of control.
He works as a government veterinarian but said he has to drive a cab on the side just to survive. He could make a statement at the ballot box, he said, if Russia had a truly fair election. Instead, opposition leaders who might speak for him are blocked out.
PAVEL: (Through Translator) This is just not right. It's time for us to have new leaders. It is time for us to look at how other countries choose their rulers. Here, these people are in power too long and they're starting to get brazen.
GREENE: As much as people like Pavel want change, though, something has kept Russia from exploding with outrage. Everyone has their own explanation. Maybe too many people fear the authorities or maybe enough citizens are satisfied with their wages and the state of Russia's economy.
Whatever it is, Russia probably won't see full-scale demonstrations for democracy until people like Julia Repich are driven to act.
(Soundbite of music)
GREENE: She's a 35-year-old chef at a restaurant in Tver that plays American country music. Repich herself spent years in the U.S., attending cooking school and tasting American democracy, before she returned home to be with her family.
Do you miss the political system in the U.S., when you moved back to Russia?
Ms. JULIA REPICH (Chef): No.
Ms. REPICH: I miss the food.
GREENE: Sure, she said, the idea of a real election in March is a farce. Yet, these days feel stable, compared to the tumult at the end of Soviet times. And so she's happy to support Putin or Medvedev, and not interested in joining some opposition group.
Ms. REPICH: It's more nice to just go to work and take care of my family and that's it. I think we don't have any time for this.
GREENE: No time, she says, for a pro-democracy movement that might only create chaos.
David Greene, NPR News, Moscow.
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