Putin's party: Russian election marred by allegations of fraud, coercion
Critics say Sunday's parliamentary vote, boycotted by Europe's election watchdog, may be the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed.
Though more than a dozen parties are on the ballot for Russia's parliamentary election Sunday, one would hardly know it. The pro-Kremlin United Russia (UR) party, whose standing has jumped more than 25 percent since President Vladimir Putin announced he would head its candidate list last month, could fairly win up to two-thirds of votes for the 450-seat State Duma, according to most polls.Skip to next paragraph
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But in what some experts say may be the least democratic election since the USSR collapsed, boycotted by Europe's election-monitoring body, the campaign has been marred by complaints from opposition parties of official interference, seizure of campaign literature, the exclusion of some candidates from the ballot, and the sidelining of independent Russian poll observers.
Over the past week, allegations have also surfaced, notably in an investigative report by the English-language Moscow Times, that voter coercion and outright fraud are being deployed to loft UR's vote to even greater-than-expected heights.
"On a scale of 1 to 100, the level of democracy in this campaign is zero," says Lilia Shibanova, head of Golos, Russia's only nationwide network of independent election monitors. "The laws are being systematically violated. Officials at all levels are involved in agitation on behalf of a single party. There is direct pressure on citizens [to vote a particular way], especially at the municipal level."
Putin's personal stake in the election
Appearing on national TV for the first time in his new role as chief candidate for UR, Mr. Putin on Thursday asked Russians to pin their faith on him.
"The country is entering a period of complete renewal of the top legislative and executive power," said Putin. "In this situation, it is especially important for us to secure continuity of the course and fulfill all obligations to people. I am asking you to go and vote for the United Russia party," he added. It was the same message he has delivered many times since announcing his candidacy with UR in early October, but the first time that UR actually paid for the Putin's public endorsement.
Constitutionally required to step down as president when his second term expires in March, Putin's apparent bid to carve out a new leadership role for himself hinges in part on UR's success Sunday.
Though publication of polls is forbidden in the last week before voting, the latest surveys suggest that UR is the only party other than the Communist Party likely to make the 7 percent cut for entering parliament. Still, experts say that Putin's personal stake in the campaign has created a drive to bring UR's vote up to levels that reflect Putin's approval rating of more than 80 percent.
"Under normal circumstances, a simple majority might suffice for UR," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, an independent journal. "But this election has been turned into a referendum on confirming Putin's future, so there's pressure for more."
According to the Moscow Times, unnamed election officials and opposition campaign workers interviewed by the paper alleged that systematic efforts are afoot to inflate UR's vote by fraudulent means, such as altering voter records.
It also detailed complaints that UR is utilizing its vast network of semi-official contacts to ensure that factory directors, military commanders, hospital administrators, and other authorities will "supervise" the voting in their polls to ensure a pro-UR outcome.