As Local Moscow Elections Draw Nearer, Fraud is Rampant

September 5, 2017

Local municipal elections will be held across Moscow districts on September, 10. Over 7,5 thousand candidates are fighting for 1502 deputy mandates, including a surprisingly high number of opposition candidates.  Nevertheless, allegations of fraud by the ruling party are already widespread. 

Municipal councils are local self-government bodies responsible for the local budget, regional development, street improvements and major repairs, government, hospitals and social security agencies.  Those who are pessimistic about the state of democracy in Russia often ask: why bother voting for municipal deputies? Firstly, it is an opportunity to directly improve your local district. Secondly, it is important to remember that democracy is built upwards from the municipal level.

The Economist revealed that Moscow has become a less comfortable place to live in the last three years. In 2015 the capital was sat in 73rd place, whereas in 2017 it had dropped down to 80th. It seems that Sobyanin’s term as Mayor of Moscow have had a significantly negative impact on the city. This is another reason for Russians not to dismiss the importance of local elections.

Despite the fact that elections will be held on September, 10 – the polls opened up for early voting on August 30. Yet, early voters are hindered by the fact that many polling stations are closed. Some blame weekends for that, which is illegal by Russian law, which states that polling stations have to be open every day. Some are trying to create unnecessary paperwork to make you feel exhausted and gave up the idea of voting early, meanwhile other people are receiving calls forcing them to go out and vote.  But why?

This year’s elections have been deemed by experts as “silent”. The ruling party is keeping their election campaign as quiet as possible, while at the same time creating ridiculous obstacles for other candidates, such as stamps that can’t be fixed or closing for renovation election points in South Butovo district. The story is the same all over Moscow: information that is necessary for voters is not provided and people are being prohibited from voting early. The number of regions that cannot cast a ballot is increasing every day.  Obstruction of the right to vote early is a direct violation of Article 69.1 of the Electoral Code of Moscow.

Open Russia’s Open Elections initiative detects instances of fraud every day.  Election points are full of pensioners, social workers and state employees.  In other words: those who are government dependent.

Pensioners are not even hiding the fact that social workers forced them to come to early elections, as well as “escorting” them to the polling station, reportedly saying that “these old women have bad sight and they need help in filling in the ballot”.

On the first day, violations were detected in more than ten regions.  The majority of these cases are linked with people working in health and education. Doctors are giving away leaflets calling for people to vote for the ruling party; citizens receive calls from the Centre of Social Support for Family and Children in which they asked to vote for their candidates. Special meetings are held in schools between parents and candidates. In many cases campaign materials are even pulled down and destroyed. In Ochakovsky district, the number of campaign canvasses has already exceeded the legal limit by 3.5%.

During the first couple of days after polling stations opened the ruling party “United Russia” was caught three times for various violations. Svetlana Akulova, who is a United Russia candidate and Moscow Zoo director, was giving away free tickets to the zoo. By Russian law such actions constitute bribery. Alexandra Polyanskaya, director of the Arts School is calling parents and asking them to vote for her, as well as head doctors of several children’s hospitals.

The lack of autonomy of the regional Electoral Committee is one of the main reasons that disruptions have been allowed to happen on such a large scale.  This problem was exacerbated by the personal intervention of members of the ruling party – “not to overdo it on the early elections”. The will of the ruling party once again prevails over the law.

In Donskoy region social benefits are exchanged for votes. Recently, a mother with a disabled child received a call in which serious pressure was put on her from United Russia people stating that if she did not attend a meeting with their candidate she will not receive state benefits for her children.

There are no boundaries by which the ruling party is playing these games; their aim is clear: a swift and silent victory.

Everything possible is being done to prevent voters from casting their ballots early.  In most of the cases no explanations are given whatsoever – polling stations are simply closed down.  Is the Kremlin really so insecure that they are going to such lengths to prevent voters getting to the polls?  How weak must the administration be to threaten disabled children? They are not ready to face competition or opposition, and they are willing to break the law to prevent it. They simply thought they could quietly wait for September 10 when they could bring in busses of pre-organized groups to vote for pro-Putin candidates, securing a routine victory.

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