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Friday, December 07, 2007

Annals of Putin's Elections Atrocities

The Moscow Times reports:

A video showing purported ballot stuffing during the State Duma elections is making its way through the Internet and prompting allegations of electoral fraud from opposition activists.

Election officials and independent monitors, however, said that nothing illegal was revealed in the minute-long video, which shows a bespectacled woman cheerfully sliding ballot after ballot into an electronic ballot box. A caption says it was filmed Sunday at Polling Station No. 730, located in the Otradnoye district in northern Moscow. The opposition movement Smena posted the video on its site under the headline "Election Falsification." But Central Elections Commission member Yevgeny Kolyushin said Tuesday that the woman could have merely been inserting into the machine ballots filled in by voters unable to come to the polling station. "People at home cast their ballots into a portable box, then at the local election commission it's opened and the ballots are entered into the electronic ballot box," Kolyushin said.

Galina Zavodova, director of School No. 240, where the polling station was located, said she witnessed the scene captured on video and saw a young woman filming it. The ballots were from people who had voted at home, Zavodova said by telephone. The ballots were entered into the machine sometime after 8 p.m., she said. Grigory Melkonyants, deputy head of Golos, an election monitoring group that has criticized Sunday's election as unfair, said election laws stipulated that ballots dropped into portable ballot boxes should subsequently be entered into regular ballot boxes. Viktoria Galanina, spokeswoman for Central Elections Commission head Vladimir Churov, said this was standard protocol. After seeing the video for himself, a tired-looking Churov implied in a live interview with Ren-TV early Monday morning that the video was a fake. As evidence, Churov noted that a security guard who enters the frame midway through the video is wearing an Emergency Situations Ministry uniform. Officers from that ministry should not be guarding polling stations, Churov said.

A Nov. 29 statement posted on the ministry's web site, however, said more than 50,000 firemen and rescue workers would be on duty at polling stations across the country during the election. Galanina confirmed on Tuesday that Emergency Situations Ministry officers could indeed be on duty at polling stations. Golos, the country's only independent election-monitoring body, criticized on Tuesday the State Duma vote as riddled with serious violations that robbed the election process of all legitimacy. "The lack of political competition, the pressure on the voting process, the mass casting of absentee ballots and the unprecedented use of administrative resources ... in favor of one party" created serious doubts about whether the vote conformed to accepted international standards, Golos said in a statement. The statement was issued just after the Central Elections Commission tried to deflect Monday's criticism by European observers that the elections were fundamentally unfair, labeling the assessment "subjective." The Golos statement was based on visits Sunday to more than 20,000 polling stations in 38 regions by 2,500 volunteers, the organization said. Golos also set up a hotline for voters to report violations.

According to Golos' data, 23 percent of the 4,000 calls it received related to restrictions placed on observers at polling stations. About 22 percent called to complain of illegal campaigning; 15 percent cited voter list violations; 9 percent said voter privacy was not observed; and 4 percent complained of some form of payment for votes. "We consider the vote to be illegal. Therefore, several new State Duma deputies will be working illegally," said Lilia Shibanova, the head of Golos, which is funded by several Western governments. "Unfortunately, because we do not have documented proof of all of these violations, we cannot go so far as to call the new State Duma illegitimate," Shibanova said. "But the voting process certainly was not legitimate."

The main opposition parties were joined by the European Union, the United States and Britain, among others, in criticizing Sunday's elections after hearing a damning declaration issued Monday by the observers from the parliamentary assemblies from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Central Elections Commission dismissed the declaration Monday, and on Tuesday, its head, Vladimir Churov, mocked it. Churov, who holds a degree in physics, took a swipe at claims that the political atmosphere was dominated by the Kremlin during the vote. "I can say that, for example, the election took place in Moscow and St. Petersburg and other large cities in an atmosphere of serious pollution by automobile exhaust," he said at a news conference, Interfax reported. "But, as an atmospheric physicist, I wouldn't even try to say in what kind of political atmosphere they took place."

The Foreign Ministry received the joint declaration coolly, issuing a statement late Monday saying it contained "a collection of slogans not backed up with any hard facts" that "give rise to serious doubts." Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of the liberal Yabloko party, which scored its worst-ever result at 1.6 percent, sent a message to its voters that the "manipulations and violations through cynical lies" in the vote were "unprecedented." Churov confirmed on Tuesday that United Russia would have 315 seats in the next Duma. The party had 297 seats at the end of the outgoing 450-seat Duma. The Communist Party will have 57 seats, while the remaining seats will be divided between two parties sympathetic to the Kremlin, the Liberal Democratic Party, with 40 seats, and A Just Russia, with 38 seats, Churov said.

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