Rampant Vote Rigging in Russian Elections – Report

Scandals at the recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia failed to discourage the authorities from meddling with the polls, with Sunday’s regional elections fraught with violations, an independent watchdog said Monday.

About 850 violations were reported by vote monitors at the regional polls that took place in 77 of 83 Russian regions on Sunday, electoral watchdog Golos said.

Main electioneering tricks include obstructing the work of vote monitors, abuse of absentee ballots and multiple voting, the group’s deputy executive director, Grigory Melkonyants, told a press conference in Moscow. These vote rigging tactics are “shamelessly used wherever needed in a blatant and explicit way,” he said.

United Russia carried all five gubernatorial polls and won majorities in all seven regional legislatures to undergo a revamp on Sunday.

Party nominees also won mayoral votes in Kaliningrad, the capital of the eponymous region, and Moscow Region’s city of Khimki, where the United Russia man had to compete against oppositional champion Yevgenia Chirikova, a rising star of federal politics.

Some of the most spectacular election-related offenses included a Yabloko party member in Ryazan Region hurled downstairs at the election commission office he was trying to file a violation report at, and a vote monitor in Bryansk being carried 300 meters on the hood of a Mercedes sedan owned by a city legislator with United Russia in Bryansk.

Electoral setbacks for the ruling party included the victory of an independent candidate in Moscow Region’s Pushkino, which came after a particularly dirty campaign, and the second-tier party Patriots of Russia trouncing United Russia in the legislative vote in Kaliningrad Region’s city of Yantarny.

Non-parliamentary parties, including the social-democratic Yabloko, the liberal Parnas and the Green Party, made small inroads into local legislatures, while the populist Liberal Democrats, which are represented in the State Duma, were the main underachiever, said Golos’ expert Alexander Kynev.

The parliamentary and presidential elections in December and March, respectively, caused a flurry of fraud allegations, and triggered the biggest mass protests in two decades in Moscow.

The Kremlin responded by easing of party and election legislation, which was followed, in an apparent change of mind, by tightening of political screws, including rules for public rallies.

The authorities banked on downplaying the importance and credibility of the regional elections, which, coupled with vote meddling, was meant to ensure United Russia’s continuing hold of the regions, Kynev said.

But political opposition in many cases also failed to offer any programs or candidates to capture the voters, he added.

This has further discouraged the public, which is growing tired of protest vote where the quality of anti-establishment candidates makes no matter, Kynev said.

“The elections were a condemnation of the current political system as well as a signal that the society wants new faces, new heroes,” Kynev said.

The Central Election Commission only reported 55 minor violations, its deputy head Leonid Ivlev said on late Sunday.

He accused Golos of rigging their statistics in order to please the group’s foreign donors, a claim denied by the watchdog’s leadership at the press conference on Monday.


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