Various incentives have been offered to encourage Russians to vote [AFP]

At Moscow's polling station number one, the fears of some Russian officials that a low turnout could take the shine off Dmitry Medvedev's likely victory seem unfounded.

The snowfall of early Sunday morning had turned to heavy rain, but a steady stream of voters arrived to cast their ballots, often having to wait for one of the five booths to become free.

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Three hours after the polling station opened, Boris Bobrovich, a central election commission official, told Al Jazeera: "Things are very similar to previous elections, and in the afternoon the number of people is likely to improve.

"I think that about 70 per cent of people who live in this area will vote."

If turnout is less than 50 per cent across the country, the election would be declared invalid and another organised.

This would be a huge blow to the Kremlin and Medvedev as the chosen successor to Vladimir Putin, the outgoing president.

Nikolai Petrov, scholar-in-residence at the Carnegie Institute Moscow, said: "Usually presidential election turnout is about five per cent higher than the Duma elections, so that will be more than 60 per cent which is pretty good."

However, around the corner in polling station number two, Vradiy Irina said that the stall she operates selling drinks and pastries to voters had been less busy than during last year's parliamentary polls.

"The weather seems to have kept people away ... it is difficult to get out of bed when you look up and see that it is snowing," she said.

Vladimir Churov, the chairman of the election commission, said that turnout was about 16 per cent by midday Moscow time, exceeding figures at a similar time in the parliamentary vote of the 2004 presidential poll.

Campaigning

Campaign posters for the four candidates have been few and far between in the capital, but on billboards and in shop windows people have been urged to go to the polling stations by a poster in the colours of the Russian flag.

Some say the snowy weather is
keeping voters away [Reuters]
Messages were sent to peoples' mobile telephones and printed on the back of metro tickets reminding voters that the election was being held on March 2.
 
Many people seemed to be showing up at the polling station despite acknowledging that there was very little chance that their vote would make a difference to the outcome.

"The decision is already made, everybody understands that the results are decided, but it is my country and I need to give my opinion," Ludmila Gaponenko said after casting her ballot.

Yuri, another voter at the polling station in a high school, said: "The result is already decided, so really there was not much sense in voting."

"I have not missed any elections ... I did it because it is my duty," he said.

Avtandil Ninua told Al Jazeera that he had voted for Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist party candidate, despite the fact that he knew Medvedev would win.

"I don't like him, but I think that there should be some opposition... I voted to show people in Russia have their own opinion," he said.

Concerns

Some employees of state-run organisations have reportedly claimed that they were put under pressure to vote or risk losing raises, promotions of even their jobs.

Golos, a Russian election monitoring group, said that it was concerned about reports of organised collective voting by civil servants and students at polling stations at their workplace or educational institutions.

But outside of Moscow, some people were being encouraged to take part in a significantly less controversial manner.

Lotteries with a car as first prize, free haircuts, free medical checks and invitations to nightclubs have all been offered as incentives.

In Sochi, the location for the 2014 Winter Olympics, voters will also have the chance to pick their favourite of four potential mascots for the games.

A polar bear, a dolphin on skis, Father Christmas holding the Olympic flame and a skiing snowflake will be on the ballot paper.

There were no opinion polls before the Olympic contest to suggest whether or not it would be any closer than the presidential one.

Source: Al Jazeera