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Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Russian elections hit by corruption claims

Russian Polling Booths with Deluxe CurtainsUnited Russia are the only ones celebrating after Sunday's regional elections were branded some of the dirtiest ever.

The ruling party romped to its customary triumphs in six regions but observers were crying foul and slamming "monstrous violations".

Polling day came with a difficult summer still fresh in the memory and election spotters were particularly interested in Novosibirsk where polls suggested dwindling support for United Russia.
[Original of image copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036]

Throughout September the city was covered in campaign posters, mostly focusing on kilometres of newly-built roads, and in the end the ruling party held on with 45 per cent of the vote ­ 20 per cent more than the Communist opposition, but less solid than in other regions.

Infringements all round

And even that advantage may have been artificially enhanced: Moskovsky Komsomolets sent a reporter to work as an election observer in the Siberian capital and reported a man trying to stuff a thick bundle of ballot papers into a box.

He was thwarted by police and a similar fate befell another over-enthusiastic United Russia supporter in Tatarstan, Kommersant reported.

"United Russia knows its real rating, which is why it has staked everything on monstrous violations," Oleg Mikheyev, who oversaw the campaign of A Just Russia in Novosibirsk, told the NY Times. "It can obtain the desired results only with the help of deception and forgery."

Observers say that this was a dirtier campaign than last March's, and was almost on a par with the highly contentious regional elections in October 2009, which sparked fighting in the streets and numerous challenges in court, which were all quashed.

Stick and carrot

Ticking the right box could be worth up to 3,000 roubles to a shrewd voter, with gifts on offer in Novosibirsk, Chelyabinsk, and Kostroma Regions, as well as in Tatarstan and at the Samara mayoral elections. Gregory Melkonyantsa, executive director of Golos (The Voice) railed against a "brazen abuse of administrative resources".

Voters at Yekaterinburg Region's polling station No. 699 were wooed with caviar, coffee and sweets. A lot of these voters also produced absentee papers, allowing the bearer to vote where they are not registered, noted opposition parties Yabloko and A Just Russia.

In Krasnodar, where the Communists pulled out several candidates in protest at what they said was a rigged campaign, transport to take punters to the polls caught the eye.

Communist boss Ivan Chuev highlighted the increase in free rides to the polling stations and told Kommersant that it suggested the city's disabled population must have increased by up to 25 per cent.

Bloggers told of 100 rouble bribes and doorstep visitors, supposedly from a United Russia commission, who asked whom people had voted for and then wrote down their answers.

Comfortable wins

According to preliminary results announced late on Sunday, United Russia was in control of all the regions where polling took place.

Exit polls and early returns suggested the ruling party had taken between 45 and 80 per cent of the vote in each region.

United Russia State Duma deputy and head of NGO Za Chestny Vibory (For Fair Elections) Nikolai Gonchar said that "elections are held in a perfectly acceptable fashion". Although "there were the same number of violations as in March," he reassured that there were "many less than in October last year".

And LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said there was no reason to repeat the protests which followed last year's State Duma elections, when the three opposition parties launched a boycott in protest at the reported violations.

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