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'An insult': Russian election observers reject Putin's win

Russia's League of Voters, organized in the wake of December's fraud-marred parliamentary election, called the March 4 presidential election 'an insult to civil society.'

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Russia's older and better-established grassroots electoral monitoring group, Golos, has been far more cautious in its criticism of the election, noting that they were conducted under the fundamentally unfair rules of Putin-era "managed democracy" and their conduct was marred by numerous violations. But Golos also thinks Sunday's presidential voting was cleaner than fraud-tainted December Duma polls and had several positive new features, including the unprecedented numbers of volunteer election monitors and the installations of webcams in all of Russia's 98,000 polling stations.

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"In our view, the [presidential elections] were neither free nor fair," says Andrei Buzin, a researcher with Golos. "But we have noted that on election day the process of voting and the counting of votes was better than in past election campaigns. "There were violations, but on the whole it was cleaner than past campaigns."

According to Golos, the main violations they found and documented include voters being required to cast ballots in workplace polling stations – including the army and state institutions – under the eyes of bosses and authorities; the abuse of absentee ballots; "carousel voting," or casting multiple ballots; ballot-box stuffing by electoral officials; and paying citizens to vote a certain way.

The international observer team fielded by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe concurred that such violations were widespread in Sunday's voting, noting in its report that "there was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt… the process deteriorated during the vote count, which was assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed."

But the decision by the League of Voters to reject the results out of hand is bound to raise tensions in a post-election atmosphere that's already fraught with uncertainty. About 500 people were arrested on Monday night for protesting against the election results, and opposition leaders have vowed to take to the streets of Moscow next Saturday to keep the pressure on Putin to stand down and allow free and open elections.

"Tens of thousands will be coming out on the streets of Moscow and other cities and refusing to leave," opposition leader Alexei Navalny told journalists after being released from prison – where he spent the night – on Tuesday. "We will keep doing this until our demands are met."

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