Russian Observers, Voters See Violations
Monday, December 3, 2007. Issue 3798. Page 3.
Observers, Voters See Violations
By David Nowak
Voters complained of intimidation and attempted
bribery in what election observers called a
coordinated effort to boost United Russia's results in
the State Duma vote on Sunday.
Golos, the only independent Russian monitoring group,
said it received more than 3,500 calls on its
"We know for certain that this is just a drop in the
ocean," said Grigory Melkonyants, Golos' deputy head.
"We are seeing serious violations that we are afraid
will just be ignored."
He said the fact that similar violations were being
reported around the country suggested that orders had
come from the authorities.
Opposition parties said they had recorded dozens of
violations, and a popular LiveJournal elections blog
carried reports of violations as well.
International election observers were expected to
issue a negative report Monday.
At Polling Station No. 402, located in a school in the
small town of Pestovo, in the Novgorod region, dozens
of ballots were already marked with a check next to
United Russia, a local voter said.
"There were rumors that pensioners would get expensive
plates if they accepted a prepared ballot before
midday at a handful of schools," said Ella, a
42-year-old unemployed woman who asked that her last
name not be used for fear of reprisal.
"When we saw they were actually giving away the
plates, we couldn't believe it," Ella said by
telephone from Pestovo.
Among hundreds of other complaints, Golos observers
reported that plainclothes officers in Moscow had
offered voters 700 rubles (about $29) to vote for
United Russia; United Russia promotional posters were
visible near polling stations in Moscow and other
cities; and United Russia calendars were hanging in
women's restrooms at several polling stations. Golos
said it was illegal to display promotional material at
or within view of a polling station.
Another, perhaps less subtle, stunt was employed by
the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR. A reporter
spotted several minibuses with large "LDPR" letters on
the sides -- accompanied by an ambulance with sirens
wailing -- speeding down Yaroslavskoye Shosse.
Around midday, observers from the Parliamentary
Assembly of the Council of Europe, sounded upbeat
about what they had witnessed so far at the polling
stations. "I have not seen any special problems. It's
technically right. So far so good," said Luc van der
Brande, head of the PACE delegation, at the Russian
Academy of Sciences minutes before President Vladimir
Putin voted there.
But, he added, "it's not enough to have free
elections. You also need to have fair elections." He
appeared to be referring to the generous and positive
coverage United Russia has received from the national
television channels, which are all state controlled.
The PACE delegation -- together with observers from a
Nordic mission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe --
were expected to announce a largely negative
evaluation of the vote at a news conference Monday.
The Central Elections Commission said Sunday that
there had been violations but refrained from
describing them. Several commission members, stopped
by a reporter at the commission's headquarters,
refused to discuss the issue altogether.
The OSCE -- whose main election-monitoring group
refused to observe Sunday's vote -- and the Council of
Europe criticized the 2003 Duma elections as
"fundamentally unfair" and a step backward in Russia's
path to democracy. They cited lopsided media coverage,
the abuse of administrative resources during the
campaign, and the placement of governors on United
Russia's candidate list.
The liberal Yabloko party reported mass absentee
voting at several polling stations in Moscow and
Chelyabinsk and that vendors at Moscow Polling Station
No. 264 were selling books about Putin.
More than a dozen gay-rights activists were detained
Sunday after voting at the same polling station as
Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has called gay parades
"satanic" and denied permission to hold them. Police
detained gay parade organizer Nikolai Alexeyev and 15
other activists at around 10:30 a.m. in central
Moscow, Gazeta.ru reported.
Before they were detained, they wrote "No to
Homophobia, No to Luzhkov" on their ballots instead of
check marks, said Melkonyants, the Golos spokesman.
A law enforcement source told Interfax that the
activists had been taken to the Tverskoye precinct for
a "prophylactic conversation."
New complaints were posted on LiveJournal from workers
who said their employers were forcing them to vote.
One entry is a photograph of a letter pledging to
support United Russia on election day that a
kindergarten director allegedly told employees to
Other workers have complained of similar pressure in
Moscow Times reporters noted that there were no
enclosed voting booths at two Moscow polling stations,
only booths open on two sides or completely open
tables. The law requires enclosed booths.
Dmitry Shedrin, a Golos activist, told passers-by via
a loudspeaker from a police station in the town of
Ozyorny in the Tver region that he had been detained
by Federal Security Service officials while attempting
to monitor the voting. Shedrin, who works for the
military, said state officials had told him that a
proposed transfer he was seeking would be put in
jeopardy by his work at Golos and that he faced
United Russia had observers at more than 90 percent of
the country's some 90,000 polling stations, followed
by the Communist Party, with 65 percent, and A Just
Russia and the Union of Right Forces, with about 35
percent, Golos said in a preliminary report from seven
regions that was released at midday.
Staff Writers Max Delany, Natalya Krainova and Anna
Smolchenko contributed to this report.