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Shameful Putin ‘Election’ Farce Legitimized by the OSCE

Halya Coynash

The BBC probably needed some breaking news on a Sunday evening, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ‘electoral win’ was as good as any, but what will the OSCE say at their press conference on Monday?  They agreed to send an observer mission to a presidential election in which the main opposition candidate had been prevented from running, and which was being illegally held in occupied Crimea.  It is highly unlikely that they will conclude that the elections were ‘fair’, but their very presence gave the pretence of legitimacy to an event that had none.

It was clear long in advance that the only imponderable in the proceedings was the turnout.   Putin wanted that to be more than the 65% who supposedly took part in the 2012 elections, with more votes cast for him than the official figure of 63% back then.  The statistics were viewed with scepticism six years ago, and are no more credible this time. 

There had been reports both in occupied Crimea and in Russia of public sector workers being forced, on fear of dismissal, to ‘vote’ on 18 March.  Children were told they must bring photos of themselves with their parents taking part in the elections.  There were also gross examples of effective bribery, with huge spreads laid out in polling centres, with food many of the people would not themselves be able to afford.  Since the upbeat reports about turnout being high ended at around 12.00, it is more than likely that figures were later ‘adjusted’.

Multiple videos were posted of staff in the polling stations stuffing wads of ‘votes’ into the ballot boxes, or very obviously trying to cover the cameral lens while others committed this electoral crime. 

There are also numerous reports of members of electoral commissions having been detained and taken to police stations when they were evidently trying to prevent vote-rigging. 

In Rostov on the Don, commission member Anton Prikhodko was detained while trying to video the vote count at polling station No. 1780.  The police were called by other members of the commission when the figures did not tally and Prikhodko refused to stop videoing the proceedings.

Anastasia Shevchenko, head of the election headquarters of Ksenia Sobchak, one of the only opposition candidates, told that Prikhodko had already been held by the police for 40 minutes and said that she had been prevented from entering polling station No. 1720 by a policeman who said that he was obeying orders from the head of the commission.  In her words, he said that “If you’re from Sobchak, we’re not letting you in”,

Threats of administrative proceedings were also used.  Olga Bulba, a commission member in the Moscow region, reported that she had tried to video ballots being stuffed into the ballot box at polling station No. 3608 and began videoing. At that point ‘observers’ from the ruling United Russia party began videoing her.  When she caught the alleged culprit on video, the others videoing her threatened to report her for taking a photo of a voter’s ballot paper.   It is not clear if this is the same polling station, but such ballot stuffing can be clearly seen here.

Mass voting by police officers whose names were not on the voting lists were reported in Dagestan, as well as attacks on observers.

Russia has eliminated most independent election watchdogs, and declared two international NGOs ‘  - the German European Platform for Democratic Elections and Lithuanian International Elections Study Centre – ‘undesirable’ five days before the voting on Sunday.  Why the OSCE chose to attend this entirely predictable Putin re-election stunt remains a mystery. 

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