Russian election authorities cancel results over vote rigging

Protests erupt as Tarasenko narrowly beat Communist Party candidate in Primorye poll

Andrei Tarasenko: hundreds of protesters took to the streets  after Mr Tarasenko suddenly overtook Andrei Ishchenko’s lead in the final stages of the vote count on Monday. Photograph: Reuters/ Yuri Maltsev

Andrei Tarasenko: hundreds of protesters took to the streets after Mr Tarasenko suddenly overtook Andrei Ishchenko’s lead in the final stages of the vote count on Monday. Photograph: Reuters/ Yuri Maltsev

 

Election authorities in Russia’s far east cancelled the results of a gubernatorial election on Thursday after protests erupted over blatant vote rigging.

The Election Commission in the Primorye region voted overwhelmingly in favour of nullifying a poll in which acting governor Andrei Tarasenko, representing the Kremlin’s United Russia Party, narrowly beat the Communist Party candidate Andrei Ishchenko in a run-off.

Violations at the September 16th poll had made it impossible “reliably to understand the will of the people”, said Tatyana Gladkikh, chairman of the Primorye Election Commission. “We can’t declare either of the candidates elected.”

In Moscow, Ella Pamfilova, head of the Russian Central Election Commission, welcomed the decision. “There’s no other way out of this situation,” she said.

Hundreds of protesters turned out on the streets of Vladivostok, the capital of Primorye region, after Mr Tarasenko suddenly overtook Mr Ishchenko’s lead in the final stages of the vote count on Monday. Mr Ishchenko said he would go on a hunger strike in protest.

Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist Party leader, appealed to Vladimir Putin to intervene, threatening to hold nationwide demonstrations if the matter was not sorted out.

Setback for Putin

Controversy over the Primorye poll is a setback for Mr Putin, who had supported Mr Tarasenko’s candidacy, and for United Russia which dominates politics nationwide. The ruling party had already suffered several losses in gubernatorial and regional council elections held across the country on September 9th.

Political commentators said Russians had used the elections to register a protest vote against the Kremlin’s failure to halt a decline in living standards.

A government plan to hike the retirement age, together with an increase in value added tax, has sparked widespread demonstrations across Russia. Adding to people’s woes, the rouble has been losing value amid fears that the West will impose yet tougher financial sanctions over the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policies. Inflation is expected to rise above the government’s 4 per cent target in the coming months as the weaker rouble pushes up the cost of imports.

Growing public discontent has been reflected in a drop in Mr Putin’s high approval ratings, although the president remains widely popular. Dmitri Oreshkin, a Russian political scientist, said people were gradually beginning to realise that Mr Putin was not just a “proud eagle, but a political manager who often takes very risky moves that are not always successful”.

Battling fraud

The Russian authorities have made a show of battling election fraud in recent years, installing video equipment at polling booths and drafting in volunteers to monitor voting.

Yet Ms Pamfilova said her Central Election Commission colleagues had been “shocked” by the scale of violations at the Primorye poll from ballot box stuffing, vote buying and measures to force people to vote. The culprits should be punished, she told reporters on Monday.

Andrei Kolesnikov, head of the domestic politics programme at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said the Kremlin may have decided to nullify the Primorye election to flag its democratic credentials. However, in Russia’s tightly controlled political environment, people had become “increasingly desensitised” to such manoeuvres, he told Echo Moskvy radio.