Russia where bears vote: 11,000 local elections roll through country

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Local elections were held in most parts of Russia on Sunday. Although the vote did not come off completely without a hitch, with some reports of violations, bears at polling stations and selfie contests were not considered as such.

Some 11,000 local elections were held across Russia, with voters in 83 regions choosing various posts, including governors, legislators, and city council members – with over 92,000 offices up for grabs.

Around 60 complaints have been received since the start of regional elections campaigns, Central Election Commission deputy head Leonid Ivlev said on Sunday night, adding that 13 of them had been ruled valid.

No major voting violations were observed on the day of the elections, United Russia deputy Sergey Neverov said, adding that the vote had been competitive, offering a wide choice of candidates representing different political views.

A controversy involving elections observers was reported in the Kostroma region of central Russia, when Police were called to a residential building where a coordinating office of the “Open elections” civic movement was said to be located. Members of the opposition called the incident a “provocation,” with Russian opposition figure Mikhail Kasyanov’s PARNAS party (formerly also led by murdered Boris Nemtsov) saying police had allegedly trapped the election observers inside the building.

Meanwhile, although many officials at Russian polling stations may have been expecting just another boring working Sunday, things took some unorthodox turns at a number of locations.

In the Leningrad region near St. Petersburg, a man came to vote with his pet on a leash – a pet that just happened to be a bear. The huge animal was quite friendly, and even got some treats from the officials at the station. The bear’s owner was reported to be an animal tamer who had come to cast his vote straight from a city fair.

Another bear – this time a wild one – turned up near a polling station in the Omsk region of southwestern Siberia. The animal was seen walking the streets of Sedelnikovo but didn’t scare off the voters, local authorities said, adding that turnout was high in the area, as reported by TASS.

Probably next to nothing could have prevented residents of the Kemerovo region from casting their votes. Siberia’s most populated area showed one of the highest voter turnout rates, at over 80%. The vast majority – over 96% according to preliminary results – voted Aman Tuleyev of the United Russia party in as the region’s governor.

Arkhangelsk region in northern Russia was among those having the lowest turnout, Interfax reported.

Voting was apparently too much for a man from the town of Oryol in central Russia. The man apparently had two ballots and started to stuff one of them into his mouth on his way to the voting booth, an election monitor told Orlovskie Novosti, adding that officials had rushed to get the man some water. It remains unclear what happened to the second ballot.

In the city of Blagoveshchensk in Russia’s Far East, voters were given a chance to stuff themselves with something more tasty – a huge watermelon.

Voting advocates in the city decided to attract more young voters by announcing a contest on Instagram. The user with the largest number of likes for a selfie snapped at a polling station received a watermelon weighing 11 kilograms (24 pounds).

Another selfie contest was announced on the opposite side of the country in the Kaliningrad region of western Russia. Voters aged 18 to 30 were given tickets to a dance marathon following the elections, where a selfie with the newly elected governor was announced as the main prize. Fifteen iPads were also promised to winning participants.

While younger voters competed for gadgets, older Russians were rewarded for casting their votes, too. A 103-year old man in Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia voted at home and received a cake. The World War II veteran said it was important for him to take part in the elections, as he was voting mainly for peace. Another voter in the same region celebrated his 100th birthday on election day and was also presented with a cake.

The results of the elections are still being counted in most regions. As Russia spans 11 time zones, voting had already come to a close in some regions, when people were just starting to arrive at polling stations in others.