Russia polls covered by webcams
Moscow - Watched over by webcams and gaggles of election observers, Russians voted in elections that exposed vastly different opinions about the merits of Vladimir Putin ahead of his expected Kremlin return.
Some voting for Putin at Moscow polling stations said they saw no alternative to their strongman leader, but others gave starkly different verdicts on the man who has dominated Russian politics for over a decade.
"For whom, except Putin? Because he is a real leader. I believe him," said pensioner Victoria Semyonova.
"He is the only candidate that I like, I support him," said German Mazorin, 80.
But retired librarian Elvira Fedina whispered that she had voted "against" Putin. "He's too rich," she said, gesturing in disgust.
Putin is expected to win in the first round with at least 50% of the vote, a dismaying prospect to his critics.
"I hope there will be a second round. Otherwise everything will just stay as it is," said Igor Rappoport, 60, adding only that he did not vote for Putin.
Younger, more prosperous voters seemed more likely to back billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who is standing as the only independent candidate and polls say could squeeze into third place after veteran Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov.
"I'm for Prokhorov. For the new guy. I like his programme," said Gennady Boyev, 42, a small business owner.
No other choice
"Prokhorov, because there are no other choices for normal people. I like his programme. It's reasonable, clear and understandable. It's concrete steps," said Natalya Chaikurova, 49, an English teacher wrapped in a fur jacket.
Another voter, Irina Litovchenko, 61, who works in sports, said she preferred Zyuganov, who is contesting the presidency for the fourth time.
"I like his approach to the job best. He impresses me most," she said.
Asked about the possibility of vote-rigging to ensure Putin's victory, she shrugged.
"I don't know, in our country anything is possible. I hope not."
The protest movement that drew huge rallies after December's parliamentary polls and Putin's decision to run again as president has encouraged its supporters to register as observers in a bid to clean up the polls.
Facing public anger at apparent vote-rigging after the victory of the ruling United Russia party, Putin ordered that polling stations be fitted with webcams, whose feeds can be viewed online.
In one Moscow polling station, six observers watched the vote, while wires trailed from an unobtrusive webcam mounted on a column opposite the ballot boxes.
Outraged by vote rigging
"I want to be sure that everything is lawful and I'm going to keep watch to make sure it is. It's an experience," said observer Irina Shvetsova, who took photographs as the ballot boxes were prepared for the vote.
"I am making my contribution, to make these elections more honest. It disciplines those who are organising the elections," said journalist Ksenia, who had opted to observe the elections rather than work.
Another observer, Alexander Machnev, a 26-year-old property lawyer, said he had joined the protest movement only this winter in anger over the alleged vote fraud in December.
"I was outraged by the quantity of vote-rigging in the Duma elections," he said.
"I don't believe that more than half of the voters backed United Russia. I just can't believe it."
He said he became an observer through Rosvybory, or Russian Elections, a website set up by protest leader Alexei Navalny to make it as simple as possible to become an observer.
Russia only allows international observers and those accredited through political parties or candidates.
Machnev said he had already noticed something suspicious - a bus with a route in the Moscow region parked outside the polling station. It drove off as soon as he got out his camera, he said.