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Russian Observers, Voters See Violations

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2007/12/03/011.html Monday, December 3, 2007. Issue 3798. Page 3. Observers, Voters See Violations By David Nowak Staff
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2007
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      http://www.themoscowtimes.com/stories/2007/12/03/011.html

      Monday, December 3, 2007. Issue 3798. Page 3.
      Observers, Voters See Violations
      By David Nowak
      Staff Writer

      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
      complaints hotline.

      "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
      sign.

      Other workers have complained of similar pressure in
      recent interviews.

      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
      further investigation.

      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.
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