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The Moscow Times, December 8, 2003

Complaints of Fraud And Ballot Stuffing

By Catherine Belton and Timur Aliev

From suspected vote rigging in Chechnya and alleged stuffed ballot boxes in Kirov to disappearing election committee stamps in Tuva, observers from opposition parties said a slew of violations tarnished the elections Sunday.

The head of the Communist Party's legal department, Vadim Solovyov, said the party's team of 200,000 observers had toted up a litany of apparently fraudulent voting schemes and had passed on its evidence to international monitors. He said the party had called on prosecutors to open criminal investigations into several alleged violations.

But Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov said the vote appeared to have passed "without excesses," while independent monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe still faced a check of ballots through the night and were saving their conclusions for a news conference Monday.

In Chechnya, some observers claimed ballot stuffing doubled voter turnout to more than 70 percent.

"At this polling station only 200 people voted, or about 10 percent," said Ruslan Khadashev, an observer for single-mandate independent candidate Salambek Maigov. "I don't know where they got 70 percent from."

An election official at Polling Station No. 403 in Grozny said the station had been ordered to ensure a turnout of 85 percent. "We filled in 1,000 ballots yesterday. As a percentage of the number of people allocated to this polling station -- 2,100 -- that's almost 50 percent. The rest we have to get by way of real voting," said the official, Ziyavdi Chagayev.

The most complicated thing was to try and distract the attention of observers, he said. "You needed to put the ballots in one by one. If you stuck a whole packet in together, it would have been noticed during the count.

"The 1,000 ballots we filled in were for United Russia and Akhmar Zavgayev. It was said officially that we should support them." Zavgayev had the blessing of the Kremlin-backed Chechen administration and was running for Chechnya's single State Duma seat. According to a preliminary count late Sunday, he had 100 percent of the vote.

Chechens polled on the street expressed little interest in voting. "What's the point in voting when the results are known beforehand?" said Zarema Dyshneyeva, 33, a teacher of foreign literature at Chechen State University. "Everything's decided without us and for us."

Authorities, however, said the vote in Chechnya and elsewhere appeared to have been conducted without major violations. Veshnyakov conceded there had been problems in Bashkortostan, where observers were temporarily barred from doing their jobs, and noted there had been an electricity blackout in parts of St. Petersburg, Interfax reported. But he said all these events appeared to have been dealt with immediately and had "no serious consequences."

Even before preliminary results started coming in, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov complained about violations. "Unfortunately, there have been a lot of violations," he said. "In Primorye, the governor is calling on everyone to vote for the democrats. Yesterday in Yakutia, the vice president called on everyone to vote for whomever he considered necessary. This is a violation."

Solovyov listed just some of the violations uncovered by his party, including: ballots being handed out to more than 100 villagers in Udmurtia the day before elections with the box for United Russia already ticked off; 120 ballots at a polling station in the Altai region with the Communist Party scrubbed out; a missing election committee stamp in Tuva; and observers being barred from polling stations in Dagestan.

Yabloko deputy head Sergei Ivanenko said his party's observers had uncovered some violations in the Far East and the Urals but had no complaints yet.

Galina Mikhalyova, head of Yabloko's analytical center, said the day's first complaint came from Vladivostok Polling Station No. 310 at about 5 a.m. Moscow time. A Yabloko observer complained about a fraud nicknamed "carousel," in which someone obtains a clean ballot, fills it in favor of the party he chooses and pays a voter to cast the filled ballot. The money is handed over after the voter returns with a clean ballot of his own. The observer called the police and election officials, and the suspects left in a minivan, Mikhalyova said.

An OSCE spokeswoman said, meanwhile, that the watchdog was waiting to see how sweeping media bias in favor of United Russia "had affected the outcome."


See also:

the original at

State Duma elections 2003

The Moscow Times, December 8, 2003

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