Votes rigged in Russian local elections

Mari Shibata -International News Editor 19 October 2009

Mayoral, regional and district council votes were held in 76 of Russia’s 83 regions on Sunday, with some 30 million people eligible to vote. Official results announced on Monday showed that Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party had won nearly every poll by a wide margin. President Dmitry Medvedev says the party’s major win in local elections proved its moral and legal right to run the regions, but opposition parties and independent observers claim that the voting was rigged and media access was denied.

However, Medvedev backed the outcome of Sunday’s polls even though he promised to break the party’s near-monopoly on power, just two months ago. For Moscow City Council, the most populus and affluent region, election officials said that United Russia won 66% and the Communists 13% of the vote. Those figures were expected to give the ruling party all but three of the 35 seats in the Moscow parliament, strengthening the hand of Moscow’s powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov. The opposition liberal Yabloko party failed to win 5%, losing its place on the council. Vladimir Churov, chairman of Russia’s Central Election Commission, praised the electoral process. “The elections were recognised as valid and were well organised, with a quite high turnout,” he told Itar-Tass.

However, concerns were raised by one opposition leader, former Deputy Prime Minister and co-chairman of the opposition Solidarity movement, Boris Nemtsov; AP has reported that Mr. Nemtsov was refused permission to stand in Moscow’s city council election.

He called on voters to boycott the elections, and told the Associated Press, “these elections are illegitimate. They’re nothing but a farce.”

The Communists stated on their website that in some areas of the capital, their own tallies gave them more than a third of all votes despite lower official results. These are only estimates, and not many details have been revealed on the website.

In addition, the Yabloko party alleged irregularities in Moscow, claiming that voters had contacted party officials to say they tried to vote but found votes already cast in their names. Yabloko have also said that party observers noticed large numbers of voters at a polling station who did not live in that voting area. Independent poll watchdog Golos also claimed that there had been a much lower turnout than reported, with widespread ballot stuffing and voter intimidation.

These results have wiped out opposition hopes that it could tackle the serious economic crisis in Russia, with GDP set to contract by more than 8.5 percent this year and the number of unemployed nearly 50 percent higher than a year ago. Instead, it has inspired loyalty to United Russia. Boris Gryzlov, a senior party official says, “We can say that the voters and people of Russia, in a situation when we are fighting the global economic crisis, when we are struggling to stabilise the political situation, are with the party of power.”

Mari Shibata -International News Editor