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.
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Russia's Central Elections Commission has repeatedly denied all such allegations. Putin this week pledged that the polls will be free and fair.Skip to next paragraph
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"We know the value of authentic democracy and are interested in conducting honest, maximally transparent and open elections," Putin told a group of foreign diplomats.
Elections under Gorbachev were fairer
Ironically, some experts say, Russia's most open and competitive polls were held in the late Soviet era, as the country was just emerging from Communism.
"The highest point was [parliamentary] elections in 1990," under former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, says Alexander Kynev, an expert with the independent Foundation for Information Politics in Moscow. "The old regime was demoralized; there were no political manipulations and there was an open field in those polls," he says.
Even in 1993, after former President Boris Yeltsin forcibly disbanded Russia's first freely elected parliament and rewrote the country's Constitution to vest the lion's share of power in the Kremlin, opposition parties were still able to win major shares of the seats in the newly created Duma.
In addition, say experts, elections were more democratic earlier in Putin's tenure.
"The first elections under Putin [in 2003] were more open and competitive than the present campaign," says Mikhail Afanasyev, an analyst with Nikkolo M, a Moscow-based political consultancy. Four years ago, Russia's two liberal parties, Yabloko and Union of Right Forces (SPS), were squeezed out of parliament, and UR garnered a two-thirds majority of the seats. Sweeping revisions to election laws have since eliminated local constituency races, tightened restrictions on political parties and raised the bar for entry into the Duma.
"Today it's clear that the election is going according to a previously prepared script, parties have been selected in advance, and the whole system is rather artificial," says Mr. Afanasyev.
Disregard for international opinion
Last week the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe declined to send a contingent of observers after what it called systematic delays in obtaining Russian visas for its delegates. In a tough speech this week, Putin suggested that US meddling was behind the OSCE pullout.
Independent Russian groups trying to monitor the voting have faced similar problems. Golos, which receives some funding from USAID, a US government agency, says it's been subjected to intense official pressures, including a criminal investigation that forced its branch in Samara, a Volga region, to close until after the upcoming March presidential polls. Ms. Shibanova says the organization has been pilloried in the media, and its regional activists are often called in for "talks" with the FSB security service.
Unlike past Russian elections, no independent exit polls will be conducted during Sunday's voting. Instead, surveys will be done by the state-run Center for Public Opinion (VTsIOM), the Kremlin-connected Public Opinion Foundation, and activists from Nashi Vybori, a branch of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi.
"Russian authorities are making it very clear that they don't care what the world thinks about our elections," says Mr. Lukyanov. "In the past we were trying to meet international standards but now, according to the Kremlin, we have created our own Russian model of democracy – and it's none of the West's business."