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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Putin's Elections Fraud: Bold and Brazen

Xinhuanet reports that it is quite possible that Dictator Vladimir Putin's "United Russia" sham party will grab every single seat in the next Russian parliament:

A survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion says President Vladimir Putin's United Russia Party will win more than 55 percent of the vote in an upcoming parliamentary election. According to the survey conducted between November 17 and 18, more than 55 percent of those polled say they will vote for President Putin's party, almost 6 percent say they will vote for the Communist Party, almost 5 percent for Fair Russia, and almost 5 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party. Twelve parties are standing in the polls, but none of the other parties are predicted to get more than 3 percent in the election. That's below the 7 percent threshold needed to win seats in parliament's 450-member lower house.

And the Moscow Times reports that the Kremlin is prepared to go to any lengths in order to assure this result no matter what the Russian voters actually want:

Election officials have been ordered to make sure that United Russia collects double the number of votes it is expected to win in State Duma elections on Sunday -- even if they have to falsify the results, a senior election official said. The Central Elections Commission strongly denied the allegation. But accounts from other people familiar with the issue -- including opposition politicians and state-paid workers, who spoke of mounting pressure to round up votes for United Russia -- appeared to confirm the election official's remarks. The official, who heads a key regional election committee, said United Russia was gunning for double the number of votes that the latest opinion polls indicate it will win. "This is a quite a hard task," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. The official said the only way out would be fraud. The official spoke of being involved in ballot stuffing in previous Duma elections but said an alternative that is less likely to raise suspicions is to change a polling station's protocol -- the record of how many voters show up and how many votes go to each party. "During past Duma elections this was the most common way to falsify the results. We would do it in front of foreign observers because they didn't understand anything on what was going on," the official said.

A court order is required to examine protocols after an election, and the order is difficult to get, the official said. The Central Elections Commission strongly denied falsifications and said Sunday's elections would adhere strictly to the law. "No vote rigging will be allowed," commission spokeswoman Viktoria Galanina said. The Moscow Times cannot provide figures for United Russia's expected election results due to a ban on the publication of opinion polls, election forecasts and other research related to elections that went into force Monday. The election official said United Russia was seeking to top Putin's landslide victory in the 2004 presidential election. United Russia officials have portrayed Sunday's elections as a referendum on Putin and his policies. The official decided to speak to a reporter because of "disgust" about the process but said family and income worries prevented an immediate change of jobs. The official said United Russia was hoping to win big with a nationwide campaign under which bureaucrats, doctors, teachers and other state-paid workers are being told to find 10 people each to vote for the party. The official said the workers were being asked to follow a "1-for-10 formula." "This means that each one of us has to get 10 people to vote for United Russia, and we have to provide our superiors with a list of the names of these people," the official said. "Everyone in every region is involved in the process." The official said bureaucrats had been warned that their lists would be checked against the names of people who vote, and they could face sanctions such as blocked promotions for no-shows.

Spokespeople for the Oryol region, the Adygeya republic and the city of Moscow denied that their administrations had received instructions to collect votes for United Russia. "I have never heard about anything like that," said Yury Aidinov a spokesman for Moscow's City Hall. But Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist official, said governors had been ordered to help United Russia double its forecast vote. He said he had learned about this from "our sources." United Russia denied orchestrating a campaign of loyalty. "These are just rumors our political enemies love to spread," said Oleg Kovalyov, a senior party official. At Oryol State University, professors have told students to vote for United Russia or face dismissal, said a journalism student, who requested anonymity to avoid the risk of being expelled. He said the students had also been told to vote at an on-campus polling station, which is to be supervised by a teacher. "Many students are afraid, especially those who live in the dorms, and they say they have to vote for United Russia," he said. He said rumors were swirling around the campus that cameras have been hidden in the polling station to see how students vote. University officials could not be reached for immediate comment, but the head of a local nongovernmental organization confirmed the account. Dmitry Krayukhin, who heads the Institute for Social Problems, said local teachers and doctors had been asked to sign a pledge to vote on Sunday and were told verbally to choose United Russia. "People have told us that they have been threatened with dismissal if they don't vote for United Russia," Krayukhin said.

A Moscow doctor said his clinic's director had told staff how they should vote and to find friends to vote for United Russia or state funding for the clinic would end. The doctor asked that he and his clinic not to be identified for fear of losing his job. A manager at a Moscow food importer said her boss, a United Russia member, had also told his staff how to vote and asked them to persuade at least 10 friends to vote for United Russia. "I'm going to vote because the boss can check, but I'm not casting a ballot for United Russia. I'm disgusted by this situation," the manager said. "The positive side is that I know what I'll do after New Year's. I'm going to look for another job."

Foreign election observers complained of unbalanced media coverage during the 2003 Duma elections but otherwise declared the contest largely fair. The Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which sent 450 observers in 2003, said it was "total nonsense" that falsifications might have occurred unnoticed. "Observers were there for one month and a half, and they were trained for a full day on Russian election law," said the office's spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir. The agency, part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, decided not to send a mission this year after persistent visa delays. The senior election official said no one was afraid of being caught manipulating the vote on Sunday. "A district commission was caught in Moscow [in 2003], but so what? Nothing happened to them," the official said. "The Communists sent a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg three years ago, and they are still waiting for an answer."

The Communists and Yabloko, the liberal opposition party, turned to the court after the Supreme Court rejected their appeal to invalidate the results of the 2003 elections, which they claimed had been distorted through vote rigging and biased media coverage. Sergei Mitrokhin, a senior Yabloko official, predicted that Sunday's elections "would be the dirtiest in Russian history." "It is impossible for United Russia to get what it wants without falsification," he said. Boris Nadezhdin, a senior official with the Union of Right Forces, another liberal opposition party, said his party planned to send observers to 50,000 polling stations. "We won't allow them to falsify the elections," he said. Ilyukhin, the Communist official, said his party only had enough manpower to cover polling stations in major cities.

A total of 96,000 polling stations will be open on election day.

The Financial Times says it's a "travesty" and that's actually putting it mildly:

There is no doubt about who is going to win the elections for the Russian state Duma next weekend. The party known as United Russia, whose list is topped by President Vladimir Putin, is heading for a landslide victory. The latest polls give the “party of power” between 62 and 67 per cent of the vote. Its nearest rival, the Communist party of Russia, is likely to get about 14 per cent. Only two other parties, the arch-nationalist Liberal Democrats and the centre-left Just Russia, loyal creatures of the Kremlin, stand any chance of securing the 7 per cent needed to enter parliament.

Given such a foregone conclusion, it is hard to understand why the Russian authorities are fighting such a foul election campaign. Yet in the system of “managed democracy” espoused by Mr Putin, nothing can be left to chance.

The president and his pals dominate the airwaves of all the national television channels. Their artificial parties are registered and their rallies officially protected. Opposition parties are allowed to take part in token TV debates in which the ruling party declines to participate. The tiny minority parties, which hold to values that would be recognised as genuinely democratic outside Russia, are harassed as if they were a threat to the state. Peaceful protesters, such as Garry Kasparov, the chess grand master, are jailed on flimsy charges.

The most professional team of election observers in Europe, from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has pulled out of attempting to monitor the election campaign. The Russian government insisted its numbers be cut from 400 to 70, and then failed to deliver visas when they were promised.

On Monday Mr Putin blamed the US government for the decision to pull the observers out, in yet another example of how he has sought to demonise foreign influences in his campaign. Earlier he accused his opponents of “sponging off foreign embassies” to promote a “weak, sick state” and “a disoriented, divided society”.

It is hard to know whether such invective is a product of paranoia or mere cynicism. Mr Putin’s advisers seem to fear a popular uprising in Russia like the Orange revolution in neighbouring Ukraine. Yet there is little to suggest such a danger exists. Mr Putin is genuinely popular for bringing stability to Russia, even if his “managed democracy” is a travesty. Life has improved for most Russians, thanks to high energy prices. But the powers in the Kremlin do not trust democracy. They only understand how to fix the result, just as they used to do



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