At the break of dawn last Sunday, the first voters filed into the Osennyaya Street polling station in the heart of Moscow's exclusive Krylatskoye district - where many of Russia's political elite, including the president, are registered to vote.
Those passing through school No. 1130 made up a "who's who" of Russian politics, past and present. Voters included Russia's first post-Soviet Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar; former Kremlin security chief and one-time Yeltsin confidante Alexander Korzhakov; former FSB Director Mikhail Barsukov; and Moscow's Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
The first voters at the polling station were casting their ballots before heading off to work. They had no time to linger for a glimpse of their famous neighbors: The political heavyweights arrived at a more civilized hour.
"I'm late for work now," said Nadezhda Odinokova, a shop director who came with the first batch of voters that morning. "I voted with my heart," she said, recalling the popular slogan of the 1996 presidential campaign. "I chose Luzhkov for mayor, and his party, Otechestvo, [Fatherland-All Russia] for the Duma because his positions are closest to my heart."
Other voters said they based their decision on foundations other than emotion. A 20-year-old finance student, Maxim, who declined to give his surname, said he also supported Fatherland, but only because he sees its co-leader, former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, as "a man who is to be trusted and who knows what to do."
Shortly after, two men decked out in black entered the school,
and security in the building suddenly heightened - the president was not long in coming.
Yeltsin arrived with his cortege. Those who happened to be in the station with the president said later he was "looking good." Speaking to journalists after casting his ballot, Yeltsin expressed his view that the new Duma would be a good one, as many candidates seemed to be good business people.
"I live here, but it's the first time I have seen him," said pensioner Vasily Kulagin, speaking excitedly of his encounter with the president.
"[Yeltsin] walked past me in the corridor and even brushed against me with his elbow. He looked fine to me, quite cheerful and vigorous even," Kulagin said.
According to Lyudmila Belyakova, who has been head of the local election commission for the last five polls, the top politicians tend to have their own style in the station.
"Yeltsin comes in to cast his vote, speaks briefly to journalists and leaves soon after," Belyakova said. "Naina Yeltsin, however, never gives an interview, [between the two of them] it rarely takes more than 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Korzhakov and Barsukov just come in, cast their votes quickly and leave without talking to the press."
But this time, former presidential security man Korzhakov dropped a small bombshell for journalists. He said he voted against all of Moscow's mayoral candidates, describing the incumbent Luzhkov, Union of Right Forces (SPS) leader Sergei Kiriyenko, and the head of the presidential business administration Pavel Borodin, as "embezzlers of public funds."
Yegor Gaidar, who is also on SPS's party list, said he expected the next parliament to be better than the present one, but refused to elaborate on the candidates for fear of breaking the law.
Mayoral hopeful Borodin showed more bravado - in line with his earlier promise to "get married to Moscow," a pledge his wife, Valentina, said she wouldn't mind him fulfilling. Borodin was self-assured, saying he expected to get the votes of Muscovites as he had "never lost in my life yet."
But it was Luzhkov who stole the show, accompanied by his wife Yelena Baturina, a Duma candidate for Kalmykia, and their two daughters, dressed like twins.
After spending a good five minutes in the voting booth, allowing his wife to cast her vote first, the mayor posed by the ballot box for photographers. Assessing his chances of retaining the mayoral post, Luzhkov said he was "counting on the support of Muscovites," and promised to tackle the city's problems with renewed vigor.
Baturina backed her husband, saying the duo had been successful in the campaign no matter what the final result. "We have won anyway, after all this reckless mudslinging [aimed at us]. We showed that we were not frightened," she said.
Leaving the polling station hand-in-hand, the family was surrounded by pensioners who came to thank the mayor.
Most of the elderly respondents said they were against voting the Communists back into parliament. "I'll never vote for the Communists, they are gone and should remain a matter of the past. I am 70 and have had enough of them," said Kulagin.
The young, who turned up at the station to vote for the first time, said they would support SPS, led by several of Russia's prominent young reformers.
Irina Latysheva, a 21-year-old mother, said she chose SPS "because their interests coincide with mine. I don't think they will win, but it's my choice."
Builder Yury Kalyabin came to vote for Spas - heir to the extremist Russian National Unity movement led by Alexander Barkashov - unaware that the group had weeks earlier been barred from the list.
Whichever group voters came to support - left, right or center, all said that they were casting their vote in the hope of a better future for the country and for peace and prosperity. "Casting different votes, we all strive for the same," Belyakova said.
The head of OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly, Helle Degn, who was in Moscow to monitor the fairness of elections, also visited the station. After noting some minor infringements, she still said her expectations were of "the best and the highest."