Friday, November 30, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Kameraden!

Progressive politics at its finest.

Fraud, intimidation and bribery as Putin prepares for victory

State workers forced to vote in effort to rig result

The Kremlin is planning to rig the results of Russia's parliamentary elections on Sunday by forcing millions of public sector workers across the country to vote, the Guardian has learned.

Local administration officials have called in thousands of staff on their day off in an attempt to engineer a massive and inflated victory for President Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party. Voters are being pressured to vote for United Russia or risk losing their jobs, their accommodation or bonuses, the Guardian has been told in numerous interviews with byudzhetniki (public sector workers), students and ordinary citizens.

Doctors, teachers, university deans, students and even workers at psychiatric clinics have been warned they have to vote. Failure to do so will entail serious consequences, they have been told.

Analysts say the pressure is designed to ensure a resounding win for the United Russia party and for Putin, who heads its party list. The victory would give him a public mandate to maintain ultimate power in the country as "National Leader" despite being unable to stand for a third term as president in March.

In a televised speech yesterday Putin implored the nation to turn out and vote for United Russia, saying: "I count on your support." The president enjoys genuine popular backing but a spokeswoman for Golos, an independent organisation monitoring the elections, said "big pressure on voters across the country" was being used to balloon the result for United Russia.

"We are seeing a new phenomenon where voters are forced to get absentee ballots under threat of being sacked or being denied bonuses," she said. "People are then instructed to vote at their workplace where everything is tightly controlled." The spokesman said the pressure applied to private businesses as well as state-run enterprises.

Students have been told they risk the prospect of failing exams or being removed from courses if they do not vote for United Russia. Alexander, a journalism student at Oryol State University, said: "It's been made very clear that students who don't get absentee ballots and vote the right way could lose their place in the dormitory."

Anna, 31, a schoolteacher in Ulan Ude, said: "We were called to the staff room in my school about a month ago and asked to sign a formal declaration promising that we would vote for United Russia. I told them that I wanted to vote for another party, but they told me to sign it in such a manner that there was no way to refuse. They hinted I could lose my job."


Bloggers on Russia's most popular social networking site, Livejournal, have posted numerous accounts of intimidation. One in Murmansk wrote that he was told that if he didn't vote for United Russia "the management would get it in the neck".
Don't be surprised if Livejournal develops a severe case of technical difficulties in the not too distant future.
Another in Yekaterinburg wrote: "Today my wife came home in shock. As the boss of a state company she has been told that all her workers living in different parts of town must take absentee ballots and go to vote in Kirovsky district. She has to go and sit all day on December 2 and call round everyone in her collective. Then she has to provide a list of who has voted." She then received a directive warning her to add anybody who didn't vote for United Russia to a list, and later those people would be "called to the office" of the local administration.

The Kremlin has cast Sunday's State Duma vote as a referendum on Putin. Although Putin is obliged to step down as president next May, a landslide victory may be used to legitimise his return to power, possibly as early as the summer.

The president's personal popularity remains high. But support for United Russia is less solid. Independent experts say the party's true ratings are around 35% - well below the 55% figure suggested by state-controlled opinion polls.

In a leak to Russian media this week, one senior election official said that regional governors had been told to deliver at least 65% of the vote for Putin's party, an "unrealistically high" total that could be achieved only through electoral fraud and by compelling people to vote.

"The elections are going to be falsified," said Mikhail Delyagin, an economist and the director of Moscow's Institute on Globalisation Problems. "The elections that took place in the Soviet Union were less falsified than this one."

He added: "All those who depend on state salaries have been forced to go and vote. This means workers on all levels of state power working for local government, all the military, and those who are in prison or psychiatric hospitals. Of course people have the possibility to lie. But there is enormous psychological pressure."


Putin's decision to associate himself with United Russia's election campaign - and to stand as a candidate at the top of the party's federal list - has contributed to the scale of the fraud, analysts said.

"The scale of pressure is due to nervousness within the Kremlin administration since it announced that this is no longer a parliamentary election but a referendum on Putin," Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs, said. Lukyanov said he believed the amount of fraud on polling day would be small.
This schmuck wouldn't know voter fraud if it came up and kicked him in the ass. Or, he's on Putie's payroll.
"This is normal in contemporary advanced authoritarian systems. They are smart enough to organise the vote in quite a proper and correct way," he said.

Coercing people in advance was a more effective tactic, he added. "The consequences [of not voting for Putin] are not perhaps as bad as they promise. But there is psychological pressure, of course. I had thought Russian authoritarianism was much softer. We will see."


There's more
Furiously taking notes, spokesthingys from the Kooky Kult of Koslam were unavailable for comment.

Previously Democracy Under True Democrat, Vladimir Paranoid

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