Europe
4:03 pm
Fri March 2, 2012

After Fraud Charges, Russian Election Under Scrutiny

Originally published on Fri March 2, 2012 6:01 pm

Just three months ago, Russia's parliamentary elections prompted widespread allegations of fraud and drove thousands of protesters into the streets in the days afterward.

The Russian government and government critics both say they are trying to prevent a similar outcome in Sunday's presidential poll.

Valdimir Putin, who has been either the president or the prime minister for the past 12 years, is widely expected to win another six-year term as president. But the credibility of Russian elections is also at stake.

The government says it has installed webcams in all of the country's more than 90,000 polling places so the key parts of the voting process can be monitored live and recorded for later review.

"It's all transparent," says Nikolai Konkin, secretary of the Central Electoral Commission. He says two cameras will keep the process in view from the time voters enter the polling place until the final count is reported at the end of the day.

But his demonstration is a video that was made under optimal conditions at a model polling place.

Opposition groups say video cameras may help to deter the most blatant kinds of ballot-box stuffing. But they're not going to be very useful in combating one of the most common types of fraud, so-called "carousel voting."

That's where groups of voters are driven from one polling place to another, using absentee ballot forms to cast multiple votes.

Most of all, critics say they distrust the system because it was set up by the very people who were accused of vote rigging in December.

Opposition To Monitor Polls

A lack of trust in the voting system is what has brought more than 100 people to an ornate lecture hall at Moscow International University.

Vassily Tovstonohgov says he's here because he doesn't like being tricked, and he feels that's what happened during the election in December. The 26-year-old television writer has come to a training session for election observers, put on by a group called Citizen Voter.

The trainer promises the participants that by the end of the session, they'll know more about Russia's election laws than the officials at the polling places.

The trainer spices up his presentation with a video showing officials at a provincial polling place trying to turn observers away.

It's set to music by the singer Sergei Shnurov and his band Leningrad. Shnurov has a reputation for being wild, and the first verse has him promising to stay sober all day, so he'll be ready to vote in the elections tomorrow.

Most of the participants here are young, like Katya Goolina, who's come with her twin sister.

They see something historic in what they're doing, something they can be proud of later in life.

"To say to my son, to my children, that I did something to stop this bad behavior of my government," she says.

The stakes are high for all sides.

Putin is considered likely to get the 50 percent needed to win in the first round. But he faces the possibility that he might not do well in Moscow, Russia's capital and its largest city.

Rumors are circulating among opposition groups that Putin supporters will try to boost his numbers by bringing in voters from other cities and having them cast absentee ballots in Moscow.

For his part, Putin has said that he believes opponents will try to fake evidence of election fraud and then blame it on the government.

All sides say they'll be watching.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Russia is preparing for a tense presidential election on Sunday. Opposition groups claim the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is planning to commit massive voter fraud. And both the government and its opponents say they're developing methods of monitoring the polls, as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Russia's current culture of protests sprang directly from popular anger over allegations of widespread fraud in the parliamentary elections in December. Those allegations, backed up by videos of vote-rigging that were posted on the Internet, brought tens of thousands of people to the streets.

Russia's ruling establishment was shaken by the protests, so much so that the government announced a scheme to ensure election fairness. The government says it has installed Web cams in all of the country's more than 90,000 polling places so the key parts of the voting process can be monitored live and recorded for later review.

NIKOLAI KONKIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Nikolai Konkin gestures toward a computer screen in his office at Russia's Central Election Commission. He's the commission secretary, and he's showing how the system is supposed to work.

KONKIN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: It's all transparent, Konkin says, because two cameras will keep the process in view from the time voters enter the polling place until the final count is reported at the end of the day.

But his demonstration is a video that was made under optimal conditions at a model polling place. Opposition groups say video cameras may help to deter the most blatant kinds of ballot-box stuffing, but they're not going to be very useful in combating one of the most common types of fraud, so-called carousel voting. That's where groups of voters are driven from one polling place to another using absentee ballot forms to cast multiple votes.

Most of all, critics say they distrust the system because it was set up by the very people who were accused of vote-rigging in December.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATION)

FLINTOFF: Lack of trust in the voting system is what has brought more than 100 people here, to an ornate lecture hall at Moscow International University.

VASSILY TOVSTONOHGOV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Vassily Tovstonohgov says he's here because he doesn't like being tricked, and he feels that's what happened during the election in December. The 26-year-old television writer has come to a training session for election observers put on by a group called Citizen Voter.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: The trainer promises the participants that by the end of the session, they'll know more about Russia's election laws than the officials at the polling places. He spices up his presentation with video showing officials at a provincial polling place trying to turn observers away. It's set to music by the wild man singer Sergei Shnurov and his band Leningrad.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LENINGRAD: (Singing in foreign language)

FLINTOFF: The first verse has Shnurov promising to stay sober all day, so he'll be ready to vote in the elections tomorrow.

Most of the participants here are young, like Katya Goolina, who's come with her twin sister. They see something historic in what they're doing, something they can be proud of in later life.

KATYA GOOLINA: To say to my son, my children, that I did something to stop this.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GOOLINA: This bad behavior of our government.

FLINTOFF: The stakes are high for all sides. Vladimir Putin is expected to win on the first round, but he faces the embarrassing possibility that he might not do well in his own capital, Russia's largest city. Rumors are circulating among opposition groups that Putin supporters will try to boost his numbers by bringing in voters from other cities and having them vote absentee ballots in Moscow.

For his part, Putin has said he believes opponents will try to fake evidence of election fraud then blame it on the government. All sides say they'll be watching.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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