Parliamentary elections on Sept. 18 are likely to change very little within the nation, say Russians. Despite the nation’s relative political apathy, though, many are still planning to cast their votes. Here is their story.

Young people distribute election leaflets at an election poster of the Just Russia party in St. Petersburg. Russia's parliamentary election will be held on Sept. 18. Photo: AP

The article is first published at The Guardian's The New East network.

Having been described as the most boring election of 2016, the parliamentary race set for Sunday is largely devoid of drama and unlikely to change Vladimir Putin’s Russia very much.

But among the country’s citizens, faith in the democratic process has never been stronger. A report published in January by the Moscow-based Levada Center has found that 62 percent of Russians believe the country is truly democratic, compared with just 36 percent five years ago. [Levada Center was recently designated a “foreign agent” by the Russian government Editor’s note]

Putin’s personal approval rating has risen to 82 percent, underlining just how much the Kremlin has cemented its power since 2011, when the previous parliamentary elections degenerated into the biggest protests since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Also read: "What to expect from the 2016 Russian parliamentary elections"

In the years since, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the support of pro-Russian rebels fighting in Eastern Ukraine have bolstered support for the Kremlin.

Opposition parties say the electoral playing field is not level, suggesting that television airtime is heavily weighted in favor of United Russia, the party of power. As a result, just three parties are thought to stand a chance of getting into parliament  the Communists, the far-right Liberal Democratic party, and A Just Russia, a center-left coalition  despite new rules designed to usher in greater political competition.

So in a country where the State Duma is described as a “Kremlin rubber stamp” and where United Russia is expected to dominate once again, how do voters feel about the democratic process? Five people tell us why their vote matters.

Why we’re voting

Olga, a 26-year-old translator living in Vladivostok in the country’s Far East, is preparing to travel a massive distance to cast her vote. “I’m registered at my home city of Dalnogorsk, 500 km (310 miles) from Vladivostok, so I need to go there to vote  either drive for seven hours, or take a 10-hour bus trip.”

The area has recently been hit by a typhoon, so her participation will depend on the road conditions. “My husband laughs at me and calls me a true patriot,” she said.

Olga grew up with the idea that each vote is important. “Maybe it sounds naïve, but my parents taught me that even when you think the election is rigged, at least you get your ballot and use it to vote for your candidate, and they won’t be able to use it when they are faking voter ballots later,” she said.

Murad, 22, works in advertising in Pskov, in the northwest, and says if he did decide to vote, he might vote for United Russia. “I’m not a Russophobe  I love my country  but the elections process is a farce. It comes down to choosing a lesser evil, and, surprisingly, United Russia actually looks good compared with some of their competitors.”

Pavel, 33, a journalist and cycling activist who lives in Enkolovo village near St. Petersburg, says the ruling party will get his support. “Working as a journalist I had a chance to witness the work of the government from the inside, so anyone who thinks our politicians only steal is wrong  there are quiet, proactive people who do real work, they just don’t advertise it through PR campaigns.”

He does not believe “anything significant will change” if another party is elected. “Any change in the government only brings chaos as the new corrupted politicians take over and start to rebuild the bribing and stealing schemes to work for them,” he says.

But Anna, a 27-year-old PR specialist from St. Petersburg, says she is disturbed by the public’s apathy. “I used to work for a campaign for a non-mainstream politician, and we ordered a research study of the St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region, and found that at least 30 percent of people were unsatisfied with the current politics but still said they won’t attend this election because they think their votes don’t matter,” she says.

This year she has decided to vote for a municipal candidate. “It’s not a popular one, and probably doesn’t have much chance of winning, but I still believe it’s important for me to vote. Keeping silent is basically agreeing with what’s happening in the country, and I don’t.”

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The election is also the first full parliamentary vote in Russia since the annexation of Crimea. Many Crimeans have since accepted Russian citizenship as a result, and Alexander, 25, a theater teacher from Sevastopol, is one of them.

“I won’t vote because I don’t have a suitable candidate that I trust. I don’t have the trust for the election process and the vote count, so I don’t see any point in taking part in this fantasy,” he says.

“Opinions vary among my friends here. Some really believe in Russia and will go vote for United Russia, others take part in protests and will vote for the opposition, and there are also many of those who don’t care about the election at all.”

The article is first published at The Guardian's The New East network.