Russian observers charge fraud in Putin's election victory

A woman approaches a ballot box before casting her vote at a polling station during the presidential election in St Petersburg, Russia, on March 18, 2018.
A woman approaches a ballot box before casting her vote at a polling station during the presidential election in St Petersburg, Russia, on March 18, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) - Russian election observers denounced what they said were large-scale violations in the presidential vote that handed Vladimir Putin a crushing victory, including ballot-stuffing that was captured on state-controlled cameras.

Golos, an election-monitoring organiSation, said it registered more than 1,500 violations in regions across Russia. Several cases of people stuffing ballot boxes at polling stations, including near Moscow, were recorded on cameras set up by the authorities to ensure a transparent vote.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny said data compiled by his observers at polling stations showed that the official turnout of 67.5 per cent was inflated by 10 percentage points. MR Navalny was barred from contesting the election and had called for a boycott of Sunday's vote in protest.

There was "widespread fraud," according to Open Russia, an opposition organiSation founded by former oil tycoon and Kremlin opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Mr Putin, 65, won a record fourth term to extend his 18-year-rule until 2024 with almost 77 per cent of the vote, the highest ever score in a Russian presidential election, according to near-final results. His re-election comes amid spiraling tensions with the West, with the latest standoff sparked by a suspected nerve-agent poisoning in the United Kingdom.

The election lacked "genuine competition," as most of Mr Putin's opponents expected him to win, observers from the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report on Monday. "A choice without a real competition, as we have seen in this election, unfortunately is not a real choice," Michael Georg Link, one of the joint heads of the OSCE mission, told reporters in Moscow.

Russian Central Election Commission chief Ella Pamfilova, a former presidential human rights official, said there were no complaints of serious violations. There were half as many reported violations as in the last election in 2012, while Mr Putin's "unprecedented" level of support showed that society had united in the face of pressure from abroad, she said.

 
 

"Our people always comes together at difficult times, so many thanks to some of the leaders - I won't name them - of Western states, who also made their positive contribution" in helping consolidate the electorate, she told reporters in Moscow on Monday (March 19). "They need to know - we never weaken when there is such pressure."

This was a "transparent, credible, democratic" election, Rashid Alimov, head of the observer mission from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, told reporters Monday, according to the Tass news service.

The vote was "unprecedentedly clean," said Maxim Grigoriev, deputy head of the Russian Civic Chamber's monitoring group, RIA Novosti reported.

Mr Navalny observed sarcastically that in the mainly Muslim region of Chechnya, turnout was 37 per cent in polling stations attended by his observers and 99 per cent elsewhere.

Former US intelligence contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was given asylum in Russia, also weighed in.

"The ballot stuffing seen today in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian election is an effort to steal the influence of 140+ million people," he said on Twitter.

Complaints of ballot-rigging triggered the biggest street protests of the Putin era in 2011 and before the 2012 presidential election.