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In Russia, Putin's democracy looking more like a facade

Former leader Mikhail Gorbachev and others are outraged after last week's elections, which only 3 percent of Russians believed were fair, according to a poll.

By Correspondent / October 19, 2009



MOSCOW – What can one single vote, confirmed missing, tell us about the current state of democracy in Russia?

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A lot, says Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the liberal Yabloko party. He says that the lost vote in question – his own – offers startling evidence to back widespread opposition claims that regional polls held across Russia last week were stage-managed to ensure the victory of pro-Kremlin forces.

The United Russia (UR) party, which is led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, won about 80 percent of all contested positions in some 7,000 districts around the country. In the crucial center of Moscow, UR swept up 32 of the 35 city council seats.

Along with millions of other Russians, Mr. Mitrokhin went with his family to vote at their local polling station, No. 192, in Moscow's tony Khamovniki district on election day. He knows for sure that he voted for his own party ticket.

But when the final official tally was released last weekend, it showed that zero votes for Yabloko were registered at polling station No. 192.

"We know there were massive falsifications in the vote counting, but really, not a single vote for Yabloko?" says Mitrokhin. "It's almost as if they wanted to prove I don't exist as a living being. It looks like the authorities are not even trying to pretend any longer that we are having real elections."

Gorbachev: democratic system is 'maimed'
A public opinion survey published this week by the daily Noviye Izvestia newspaper found that just 3 percent of respondents believe the elections were a fair and true democratic exercise. A third thought that UR's victory was due to "massive falsifications" while a further 44 percent said the party benefited unduly from its command of "administrative resources," meaning official influence, state media backing, and access to government funds.

Yabloko has documented multiple cases of what is says is official fraud, coercion, and other legal violations in the election campaign and subsequent voting, some of which has been translated and posted on the party's English-language website (http://www.eng.yabloko.ru/).

But Mitrokhin's outrage over what looks like the most seriously miscarried electoral exercise in Russia's post-Soviet history has been increasingly echoed by independent commentators, including the father of Russia's troubled democracy, former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

"In the eyes of everyone, elections have turned into a mockery of the people and people have great distrust over how their votes are used," Mr. Gorbachev told the opposition weekly Novaya Gazeta, of which he is part owner, on Monday.

"What is democracy when the people don't participate in it?" he said. "The electoral system has been utterly maimed. We need an alternative."

'Everyone knows the electoral process is dirty'
Last week, scores of opposition parliamentarians staged a walkout from the State Duma to dramatize their complaints about the elections, but by Monday all but a few deputies of the Communist Party had returned.

The chairman of Russia's official Electoral Commission, Vladimir Churov, warned the protesting lawmakers that they might be breaking the law, and added if they had doubts about the process they could challenge them by "signing an official protocol" of complaint. If that doesn't work, he added, they can "file a lawsuit."

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