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FACTDROP: Russians voting — and watching


Russians voting — and watching

Πηγή: Washington Post
By Kathy Lally and Will Englund
March 4 2012

MOSCOW — An intensely watched presidential election is underway across Russia’s nine time zones, where voting began Saturday afternoon Washington time across the Bering Strait from Alaska and ends in westernmost Kaliningrad on Sunday, 21 hours later.

Vladimir Putin, who has ruled Russia for 12 years, first as president, then as prime minister, is widely expected to win easily in a race against four challengers.

The government has spent more than $400 million to install web cameras in a majority of the country’s 95,000 polling places in an effort to assure voters that the elections will be conducted honestly. About 600,000 citizens have signed up to watch the webcasts from their computers.

Critics, however, call the cameras ineffective because they are trained on voters casting votes, rather than officials counting them. And, they say, much of the unfairness begins long before voting day, with Putin preventing opposition leadership from developing and controlling who can run for office.

Complaints of fraud after the Dec. 4 parliamentary election touched off protests that have been growing ever more vocal, on the streets and the Internet. The city of Moscow brought in an extra 6,500 policemen over the weekend to patrol the city.

Thousands of citizen volunteers have been training to observe the Sunday vote.

Within hours of the opening of polls, complaints started to be voiced. The Communist Party reported on its Web site that observers had been delayed in getting access to polling stations in the Leningrad region, Oryol and Perm, and that ballot-box stuffing had been observed in Novosibirsk. An instance of “carousel” voting — where voters are taken by bus from polling place to polling place, casting votes at each — was reported in Yekaterinburg. In Tula, Communist Party observers said the tires of their cars had been slashed.

In Moscow, the Golos organization, which monitors vote complaints and has consequently come under intense pressure from the Putin government, reported that voters were being bused in to the city from surrounding regions, presumably to take part in carousel voting, according to the Interfax news agency.

Russian activists are so much on guard, and on the lookout for irregularities, that even a fairly minor amount of vote rigging is sure to get a huge amount of attention and call into question the legitimacy of the whole election, Alexei Mazur, a political scientist in Novosibirsk, points out.

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