MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
I'm Alex Chadwick.
Russians elect a new parliament on Sunday and polls show that President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party is likely to win big. Party leaders say Mr. Putin would then have what they call the moral right to retain power even after his term ends next year.
BRAND: NPR's Gregory Feifer traveled to central Russia. He asked people there what they think about the elections, about Putin, and about democracy.
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GREGORY FEIFER: Here on the banks of the mighty Volga, Samara isn't just any provincial city. Compared to the rest of Russia, Samara is prosperous. A nearby factory turns out the Lada car, which may be notoriously outdated but still attracts buyers because it's cheap. There is also oil here, aircraft manufacturing, and in the 1990s a tradition of privatization and other reforms that made this one of the country's most progressive regions.
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FEIFER: The city's windy boardwalk overlooks the mile-wide river on a freezing, snowy day. Among the bundled-up residents out strolling is computer programmer Vladimir Mihaylov, whose four-year-old daughter Anya is building a snowman.
Mihaylov says he'll vote for Putin's United Russia Party next month.
Mr. VLADIMIR MIHAYLOV (Computer Programmer): (Through translator) Why not? I respect Putin. He's an intelligent figure who has brought stability to the country. His predecessor, Boris Yeltsin was an embarrassment. He let authorities slipped from the Kremlin and that almost led to the country's splitting apart.
Mr. VLADIMIR ARTYAKOV (Governor of Samara): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: At a ceremony on a broad, empty square outside the grim Soviet-era administration building, Samara's governor, Vladimir Artyakov, hands out keys to new ambulances to local hospitals in front of television cameras. The governor is a stiff former intelligence officer who was appointed by the Kremlin two months ago after the region's charismatic former leader resigned. After the ceremony, the new governor says Putin has a duty to stay in power.
Mr. ARTYAKOV: (Through translator) He has to finish implementing the policies he has already begun. It's the right choice, a choice that people have already made. That's absolutely evident.
FEIFER: Putin has asked the country to treat next month's elections as a referendum on his presidency. United Russia billboards are everywhere in Samara and there are some for another pro-Kremlin party, Fair Russia. But billboards for opposition parties are nowhere to be seen, and local organizers say they're being forced underground. Independent newspapers have been recently shut, including the local edition of Novoi Gazety, one of the country's last remaining newspapers critical of the Kremlin.
Editor Sergei Kurt-Adzhiev says the authorities have accused him of using pirated software, involvement in organized crime, and embezzlement.
Mr. SERGEI KURT-ADZHIEV (Editor, Novoi Gazety): (Through translator) It's outright censorship. On television these days all you see are glowing stories about the new governor. The authorities are using propaganda to create a one-party monopoly because our apolitical population will vote for anyone it's told to.
FEIFER: Backed by the windswept shores at the Volga, Hagal Hachita(ph) prepares a ferry boat. This Volga boatman says he doesn't mind that Putin has abolished elections for the country's governors.
Mr. HAGAL HACHITA (Boatman): (Through translator) What difference does it really make? Elections weren't fair because local businessmen spent lots of money on dirty campaign tricks. Putin's our leader. In this way he's better able to work with people he trusts.
FEIFER: Inside a popular bar adjoining the city's 19th century beer brewery, department store cashier Oiga Sergieva(ph) says she'll vote for United Russia. She says Putin should remain the country's leader, partly because he's forced confrontation with the West.
Ms. OIGA SERGIEVA (Cashier): (Through translator) Perhaps Americans respect us a little more now instead of considering us to be dirt like they did before. Russia has to be a strong country; that's simply our mentality.
FEIFER: But pensioner Galieno Sherbakova(ph) is among the few here who disagree. She says residents of Samara should be able to choose their governor.
Ms. GALIENO SHERBAKOVA (Pensioner): (Russian spoken)
FEIFER: Sherbakova says Russia doesn't need Putin's growing cult of personality, but that she is not afraid of a possible dictatorship. We survived Stalin, she says, and we'll survive Putin.
Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Samara.
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