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St Peterburg Times, December 11, 2003

Communists Say Vote Count 'a Scam'

By Anatoly Medetsky and Francesca Mereu

The Communists announced on Wednesday that an alternative tally of the State Duma vote has revealed ballot stuffing that pushed the Kremlin-crafted United Russia party only a trifle higher, but was sufficient to squeeze Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces out of the Duma.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said the tally, organized in conjunction with the two liberal parties, has so far covered only 15 percent of polling stations but already has turned up at least 3.5 million extra votes for United Russia. A total of 58 million people voted in Sunday's elections.

"We can't accept the results of a vote that is 100 percent a scam. We're demanding a recount of the ballots by hand," Zyuganov said at a news conference.

Central Elections Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov stuck by his count, branding the alternative tally "not serious" and "swindling."

A United Russia leader, Oleg Morozov, dismissed the Communists' alternative tally as "political intrigue." He admitted, however, that there could have been some violations, but said they would not have changed the big picture.

True, the difference between United Russia's official result of 37.09 percent and the 33.1 percent that the Communist count is showing mattered little in the party's landslide victory. But the Communists insisted that the ballot stuffing for United Russia did irreparable harm to Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces, or SPS, by diluting their share of the vote.

Yabloko should have won 5.98 percent of the vote rather than 4.3, and SPS should have won 5.12 percent rather than 4.0, Zyuganov said. Both parties would then have cleared the 5 percent hurdle to form a faction in the Duma.

The Communists, who led the effort to prevent vote rigging, appeared to emerge unhurt by the alleged ballot stuffing. According to the alternative count, they collected 12.73 percent of the vote, practically the same as the Central Elections Commission's 12.7 percent.

The alternative count also showed no considerable difference in the results for the Liberal Democratic Party and Rodina, two other pro-Kremlin parties that won Duma seats on the basis of the party-list vote.

It was not immediately clear which regions the alternative count has covered so far - a factor that may cause the results to change dramatically as more regions are included.

The numbers of the alternative count, however, roughly correspond to those of an exit poll conducted by ROMIR Monitoring and commissioned by The St. Petersburg Times' sister paper The Moscow Times, Soros Foundation and Renaissance Capital.

Interestingly, even an exit poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation - run by Kremlin-connected pollster Alexander Oslon - showed the highest discrepancies for SPS and Yabloko.

But all the figures are within the margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

The three parties carrying out the alternative count worked together to put at least one observer at each of the country's 98,000 polling stations to monitor the voting. They then received sealed copies of the reports showing the results and voter turnout.

Yabloko deputy head Sergei Mitrokhin said that ballot boxes were not always sealed for delivery to local election committees. At these committees, extra ballots could have been stuffed into the boxes before observers gained access to them, he said at a separate news conference.

Zyuganov complained that observers had much more difficulty in obtaining official vote counts from commissions suspected of fraud.

Yabloko and SPS gave mixed signals as to whether they would dispute the findings in court.

Mitrokhin said his party would take the findings to court if there were sufficient evidence "covering several regions" - something that could become clear next week. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, however, said it would be useless to dispute anything in the Russian judicial system.

Likewise, Boris Nadezhdin, an SPS adviser, said the party could take the case to court if the difference between the official and unofficial counts proved considerable, Interfax reported. But SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada said she shared Yavlinsky's opinion. "We realize perfectly well that all this would make no sense," she told Interfax.

The Communist Party, Yabloko and SPS said they would take another few days to process more reports from the polling stations.

"It is a huge amount of work," said Andrei Andreyev, a Communist Party spokesman. "And we don't have as many people as the Central Elections Commission has."

Sergei Ivanenko, another Yabloko deputy head, said the alternative counting has to be conducted in at least half of the polling stations for the results to be convincing.

Yevgenia Dillendorf, a spokeswoman for Yavlinsky, told Interfax that when similar violations were reported to the Central Elections Commission after the previous Duma elections in 1999, "they explained to us that they would treat an alternative vote count seriously if the data were based on results from at least 50 percent of polling stations."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta speculated that the Communists might lose interest in the effort since it has so far failed to show that they should have done better in the elections. But Andreyev said the counting would be completed and the results compared to those of the Central Elections Commission and published.

Lilia Tubovaya, a spokeswoman for SPS, said the party also is counting votes and its results are very similiar to those of the Communists. But she suggested that both SPS and Yabloko would have had little to gain by sneaking past the 5 percent barrier.

"What is the point of having two small right-wing factions in the Duma? They would not be able to change things anyway," she said.

Veshnyakov sternly warned against dramatizing the situation and leveling baseless accusations. "If there are any proven concrete facts, the culprits will be severely punished," he said at a news conference. But he added: "We will punish severely both for falsifications and for slander."

Staff writer Oksana Yablokova contributed to this report.


United Russia

Central Elections Commission 37.09%
Communist Count 33.10%
MT-Soros-RenCap 34.10%
Public Opinion Foundation 36.90%

Union of Right Forces

Central Elections Commission 4.00%
Communist Count 5.12%
MT-Soros-RenCap 6.10%
Public Opinion Foundation 4.70%


Central Elections Commission 4.30%
Communist Count 5.98%
MT-Soros-RenCap 5.80%
Public Opinion Foundation 5.10%


Central Elections Commission 9.10%
Communist Count 10.69%
MT-Soros-RenCap 9.50%
Public Opinion Foundation 9.20%


Central Elections Commission 11.60%
Communist Count 11.46%
MT-Soros-RenCap 10.90%
Public Opinion Foundation 11.60%

Against All

Central Elections Commission 4.80%
Communist Count 5.21%
MT-Soros-RenCap 6.80%
Public Opinion Foundation 6.10%


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St Peterburg Times, December 11, 2003

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