Activists Claim Rigging at Russian Senate-Related Vote

Ballot stuffing boosted United Russia’s result at local snap elections allegedly meant to pave the way for a party boss into the Federation Council, vote monitors said on Monday.

United Russia garnered 49 percent of the Sunday vote for local legislature in Kasimov, a city of 33,000 in the Ryazan region 260 kilometers east of Moscow, according to preliminary results announced by local election authorities.

“I think it could have been more than 50 percent, even close to 60 percent…though that’s just my estimates,” said Dina Burkhanshina, a spokeswoman for the Citizen Observer independent electoral watchdog.

The Communists were second with 29 percent, followed by the Liberal Democrats with 11 percent and Yabloko with 5 percent. Prominent leftist party A Just Russia was kicked out of the race on a technicality, a move that political pundit Vladimir Slatinov called administrative pressure.

United Russia also scored victories in eight out of 10 single-seat districts. The turnout stood at 35 percent, unusually high for municipal elections.

Regional police confirmed receiving 15 complaints and said the figure would most likely grow as more reports pour in.

United Russia’s ticket included Moscow-based Alexei Chesnakov, 41, who oversaw the party’s campaigning at the State Duma vote in December.

Chesnakov made no secret of using the vote as a springboard for the federal parliament’s upper chamber, for which only elected legislators are entitled.

The Kasimov legislature suddenly disbanded in May, offering no explanation other than “the shifting political environment” in the country.

The elections have been widely compared to last year’s vote in St. Petersburg’s Krasnenkaya Rechka municipality, which made former city governor Valentina Matviyenko a legislator, allowing her to move to the Federation Council, where she now serves as the speaker of the upper house.

The snap vote in Krasnenkaya Rechka was not immediately made known to the general public, which prompted the opposition to accuse the authorities of trying to spare Matviyenko real political competition.

By contrast, the elections in Kasimov have seen a barrage of opposition activists traveling to the city to urge locals to vote against United Russia.

But scores of vote monitors, including some 50 Citizen Observer activists, who observed voting at all polling stations throughout the city, had to fight copious ballot stuffing, Burkhanshina said.

“We’ve seen gross violations, including criminal ones,” she said.

“It was ‘State Duma-lite,’” Burkhanshina said.

United Russia won the Duma vote in December with 49 percent, but independent observers claim between 10 percent and 20 percent of the votes were rigged in its favor. United Russia scored 42 percent in Kasimov at the time.

The ruling party had not commented on the allegations on Monday. A spokesman for the regional election commission confirmed receiving numerous violation reports, but also lashed out at the monitors, saying they obstructed the voting by walking through polling stations.

The result reflects the general public’s current political sympathies, said Alexei Makarkin, head of the Center of Political Technologies. But he said A Just Russia’s participation might have detracted from the ruling party’s score.


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