Fraud, Interference in Russian Elections

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party may control the media, the government, and the economy, but they weren’t leaving anything to chance on Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Many opposition parties were not allowed to appear on the ballot. For the past month the full weight of the Kremlin’s power has been devoted to getting out the vote in an election with only one real choice. Opposition leaders were jailed. External election observers from the OSCE dropped plans to monitor the vote, citing “unprecedented restrictions.” The Russian media has provided non-stop positive coverage of Putin and United Russia. Putin himself gave several speeches that bordered on hysteria about “foreign supported jackals” in the opposition and the need to “secure the gains” of his administration.

The reason for this effort is that with Putin at the helm of United Russia, the election turns into a referendum on the president’s popularity. As such, anything less than an overwhelming victory by the party of power is unacceptable to the Kremlin. The intense get-out-the-vote campaign drove factory owners to bully their employees to the polls and school administrations to pressure teachers to let students out of class to attend United Russia rallies, among other irregularities.

On election day there were widespread abuses ranging from manipulated absentee ballots to ballot hundreds of ballots cast before the polls opened to the harassment of independent election observers. A Sobkor®ru correspondent witnessed people voting without showing identification and people voting in locations other than their place of residence, opening the way for casting multiple votes.

There is no doubt that United Russia will achieve the preordained “crushing victory” Putin demanded. The Communists will be allowed to maintain a small fraction of seats, though far fewer than Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was promised by the Kremlin for staying inside the system as the loyal opposition — as opposed to joining Other Russia or taking on Putin directly in some other way. It remains to be seen if Zyuganov will continue to be so obedient after today’s humiliating treatment. Today he called the elections, “not democratic, not fair and not free.” Garry Kasparov and other opposition members intentionally spoiled their ballots to protest the unfair conditions.

Putin is constitutionally prohibited from running for president in next year’s elections on March 2. His direct involvement in today’s elections for the Duma make it clear what was already assumed: Putin and his gang aren’t going anywhere. United Russia and it’s allied parties will likely take over 60% of today’s votes and control nearly 400 of 450 seats. It only remains to be seen how the Kremlin will reconfigure its hold on power next year. Putin and United Russia have yet to announce to Russians the name of their next president, who will run virtually unopposed in March, enjoying unprecedented built-in advantages. (Foreign Policy magazine has a brief list of recent abuses and maneuvers.)

As a side note, Andrei Lugovoi, who is wanted in Britain for the radiation poisoning murder of Alexander Litvinenko, looks to be guaranteed a seat as a member of the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, which supports Putin.