| On January 26, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council
of Europe (PACE) delivered its verdict on Russia's parliamentary elections.
The verdict was as follows: "Free, but not fair."
British MP David Atkinson (who was an observer at the December 7 elections)
said that the whole election campaign had been "intrinsically and
fundamentally flawed, so these elections could not be described as fair."
Mikhail Margelov, Russia's representative at the PACE, interpreted
Atkinson's words in a curious manner: "No one in the Council of Europe
is questioning the democratic nature of the Duma elections in Russia."
It's not entirely clear what the PACE meant by saying the elections
were "free." Perhaps it's a reference to the fact that voting
was not compulsory: people could vote or not, as they pleased. Perhaps
it was the fact that several parties were listed on the ballot papers,
after all, and voters could freely choose among them.
But this is essentially a "sucker's game" kind of freedom:
it's up to you to decide whether to play or not, but if you do decide
to join the game, there can be no arguing - the outcome is known in advance.
The definition of "not fair" is reasonably clear.
Shortly before the elections, three parties - the Union of Right-Wing
Forces (SPS), YABLOKO, and the Communist Party (CPRF) - agreed to work
together in monitoring the vote. The joint observers were supposed to
work for all three parties simultaneously. In addition the Communists
created the FairGame system: their own electronic vote-counting system.
It operated in parallel with GAS-Vibory, the computer system used by the
Central Electoral Commission (CEC).
The idea of creating the FairGame system came from the former YUKOS
executive Ilya Ponomaryov. It's not a complicated system in technical
terms; FairGame consists of a few workstations, a server, and some fairly
simple software. Observers receive copies of protocols at polling stations;
then they contact FairGame operators by phone or e-mail to report their
data, and the computer sums up the figures to produce a final result.
The same principle is used for GAS-Vibory, the official electronic
vote-counting system. The only significant difference is that FairGame
uses open communication channels, while GAS-Vibory uses the secure channels
of FAPSI (the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information).
And there is another important distinction: FairGame gets its data from
the very lowest levels of the electoral commission pyramid - the polling
stations.Nobody knows what the secrecy-bound GAS-Vibory system receives.
The operators entering data into GAS-Vibory are not electoral commission
members, but officers of FAPSI, which is one of the secret services; naturally,
observers are not present during the data entry process for GAS-Vibory.
Exactly what the operators enter into the computer - data from the regions,
or some kind of figures provided in advance - remains unknown.
There were around 500,000 joint observers, and 92,000 polling stations.
We can say with confidence that the observers covered almost every polling
station. Within a day of the vote, it had become clear that the figures
provided by the unofficial electronic count differed from the official
First of all, a discrepancy was found between the number of ballot
papers initially issued and the total number which were valid, invalid,
annulled, and so on. This can only mean one thing: additional ballot papers
were physically added. The operators of FairGame claim that a total of
3.5 million ballot papers were added nationwide.
The greatest number of such violations were detected in Kurgan region,
Rostov region, Samara region, Orel region, Tver region, Stavropol Territory,
Dagestan, Tatarstan, and Bashkortostan. Moscow was also among the leaders
in terms of added ballot papers, although it's usually believed that crude
election fraud is rare in the capital.
What's more, it immediately became clear that YABLOKO and the SPS had
indeed crossed the 5% threshold, while United Russia had obtained 3-4%
less of the vote than its official result indicated.
YABLOKO took the next step in the efforts to expose election fraud.
From December 12, the YABLOKO analytical centre started comparing paper
copies of protocols, compiled at polling stations in the presence of observers
immediately after votes were counted and signed by members of electoral
commissions, with the figures reported to the CEC by regional electoral
commissions. This is an extremely labour-intensive task, since it involved
checking 92,000 polling stations. After two months of verification, YABLOKO
found that in 10% of cases the data reported by regional electoral commission
bore no relation to the figures on paper copies of protocols from polling
The greatest amount of falsification involved voter turnout figures.
Some regional electoral commissions boosted voter turnout by up to 50%.
(Such incidents were described in an article entitled "Did we really
vote all together?" - "Novaya Gazeta" No. 3, 2004.)
What motivated the regional electoral commissions to distort the vote-count
data? Who coordinated the falsification? Ilya Ponomaryov, head of the
CPRF information technology centre, told us that figures for the CPRF
reported from Dagestan were not based on any count of actual votes. They
resulted from a bargaining process: the Dagestan branch of the CPRF and
representatives of the CPRF Central Committee did a deal with the leadership
of Dagestan (!). That is, not with the Dagestan electoral commission,
but with the top state officials in the administration of Dagestan.
According to Ponomaryov, an even more abnormal situation was seen in
Ingushetia. The Eurasian Party of Russia won there. The success of the
Eurasian Party in Ingushetia is understandable: among the top three names
on its electoral list was Ruslan Aushev, the popular former president
of Ingushetia. In Ingushetia, the Eurasian Party got more votes than United
Galina Mikhalyova, head of the YABLOKO analytical centre, confirms
that there was falsification and widespread fraud at regional electoral
commissions; she believes this was done under pressure from regional administrations.
There is yet another aspect to this whole story. The main mission of
the CEC is to ensure that elections are fair, so it would seem logical
for the CEC to have an interest in encouraging all additional verification
and exposure methods. However, soon after the elections, CEC Chairman
Alexander Veshnyakov said he did not believe the alternative vote-count
was honest, as data entry for FairGame was done at an unknown location
in London, by unidentified people: "How can it be a fair game when
those behind it conceal their identity?"
We decided to investigate this issue, and found that the FairGame data
entry operators were in Moscow; only the server was located outside Russia,
and this was done to protect its data from any external interference.
At the time Veshnyakov made his statement, it had already been announced
that FairGame belonged to the CPRF.
Veshnyakov was indignant: "You speak of discrepancies! But when
you take a closer look, it's only a matter of one vote here, two votes
there, five votes somewhere else. Yes, people should be penalized for
these discrepancies - but you can't possibly question the outcome to the
extent you're doing!"
Yet it eventually turned out that the figures based on 60,000 protocols,
or two-thirds of the total number of protocols, do not coincide with the
results announced by the CEC.
Let's go back to a statement quoted at the start of the article. Mikhail
Margelov, serving as deputy speaker at the PACE, considers an election
in which two-thirds of the results did not reflect reality to be a democratic
election. In that case, it's natural to ask what would have to happen
for an election not to be recognized as democratic.
State Duma elections