Russian Opposition Warns of Widespread Fraud Ahead of Election

The streets of Moscow are filled with anti-regime graffiti depicting Putin as a dictator leading the “party of the swindlers and thieves.”

On Saturday, one of the more fashionable activities will be the election observation. In the wake of complaints over major election fraud in the elections for the Duma, the Russian Parliament in December, over 90 thousand cameras were installed in ballot boxes in order to keep track of the election process. Hundreds of thousands of election of servers from different parties (including 20 thousand from Putin’s United Russia party), NGO workers and regular citizens signed up as observers, bringing along their thermos bottles for a long and tense day.

There is a feeling of anarchy in the wake of major demonstrations which rocked the capital city. Graffiti on one wall showed Vladimir Putin with a Hitler moustache, cutting the word “revolution” into tiny bits with scissors. Graffiti was also sprayed on several street signs, reminding citizens to vote. Even the underground passageways had been graffitied with anti-Putin slogans, calling United Russia the “party of the swindlers and thieves.”

Natasha Russia - Natasha Mozgovoya - March 3, 2012
Natasha Mozgovoya

The ballots are set to open at 8 A.M., and will close 10 hours later. The opposition’s main worry is that the boxes carrying the votes will make their way from the polling booths to where they are counted, where there are neither cameras nor observers. It is there that the opposition fears the the fraud will take place.

The voter turnout is expected to reach between 60-70%. One member of the opposition joked that in areas like Chechnya, the turnout will “once again be 120%.”
The polls show an easy win for Putin with 66%, with 50% plus one is enough to prevent a second election round. Putin has already told editors of Western newspapers that should he win, he will offer the position of prime minister to President Dmitry Medvedev, so that the latter may continue implementing the changes he began during his terms. “It is logical,” said Putin, promising that he is not planning on worsening his policy toward the opposition, and referred to the reforms Medvedev proposed to the parliament. Putin also told the crowd that he had not decided whether he will run for a second (or fourth) term in 2018. “We are currently speaking of elections for the position of president for a term of six years. I do not know if I want to sit on top for 20 years. I have no made that decision. I am not yet thinking of another term.”

Opposition members are still arguing about whether they prefer to deface their ballot card in protest, or to vote for one of the four other candidates. They are also planning on keeping track of possible fraud. The opposition frontrunner is lawyer and blogger Alexy Navalny. “This election, we are calling on people to vote for any other candidate other than Putin, the candidate for the party of swindlers and thieves,” Navalny told Haaretz. “The main goal of the opposition is to organize enough observers and operative teams in order to ensure a fair counting of the votes. We invested a lot of time in training the observers, and according to indications we have received, it seems that the rate of fraud will be bigger than the elections for the Duma. And after that, we will focus on operations in the street.”

The opposition expressed rage at Putin saying that it is planning a “sacrifice” so that the opposition “gets killed” on purpose in order to escalate the confrontation. “It doesn’t surprise me,” says Navalny, who has already spent 15 days in jail for taking part in one of the anti-Putin protests. “Their threats and warnings that it will be “terrible,” only points at the fact that they are not sure of themselves, and are attempting to compensate for Putin’s dwindling support. If you get involved in these things, you must know that it will not be easy.”

With no real chance of anyone beating Putin in the elections, the rivalry has moved to a competition between Putin’s regime and the opposition in the street, where neither side dares blink first. Several of the opposition members are an unwelcomed surprise for the Kremlin, such as blogger Rustem Adagamov. dagamov, who runs the popular “Drugoi” (“Other”) blog enjoys between 300,000-600,000 entries to his site per day, has been invited several times to accompany Medvedev on his trips, including to a Silicon Valley meeting with Steve Jobs, has turned into one of the harshest critics of the Putin-Medvedev team. He was invited to document Medvedev after he published several comparisons on his blog between the ways U.S. President Barack Obama has been documented to that of Medvedev.

Adagamov says that he is the last person he would think of to write about politics and take part in demonstrations. However, lately his blog is competing with the number of readers of mainstream media outlets, and has turned into full breadth account of the protest movement. He believes that Putin’s comments on the opposition being a “sacrifice” were outrageous. “It is simply rude. How can he talk about his nation like that? He called the white ribbons, the symbol of the protests movement, “shoulder condoms.”

“He is probably so nervous that it looks really bad,” Adagamov says, “But to show this kind of treatment – that you depend on this lot that doesn’t care – this crosses the line.”

Natasha Russia - Natasha Mozgovaya - March 3, 2012
Natasha Mozgovaya

"They are telling the usual scary tales: that without Putin, the country will fall apart. Nothing will fall apart. There are enough high skilled people even at the administration that will do a good job, but we do need to change a system." Adagamov doesn't believe Putin's regime is capable of real reforms. "It is so rigid that it will fall apart if he delegates any authority."

In the Moscow suburb of Lubertzi, retired school teacher Liudmila Grineva is getting ready for a responsible task: she is a deputy chair of the polling station located in school building in her neighborhood. And she intends to vote for Putin. 

"I support stability", she says. "Our life is not bad now. Maybe I do not ask for much, but I have my fur coat and I eat whatever I like. Maybe others need dacha at the Canary islands. The recent economic crisis that hit so bad in the West, here we hardly felt it. From time to time our pension is raised a bit."

Grineva thinks it is laughable to call Putin a "dictator." "Those who say this probably forgot the Soviet times. Could anyone back then hold mass protests? It demonstrates that Russia is a free country. If someone wants to say something, he just says it."

Grineva used to work at the polling station during the December elections, and she gets angry when asked about about the alleged falsifications. "Maybe I am of a different generation, but I do not understand how it is possible. We work in a very orderly way. Why should anyone do it? I think the opposition makes a big story out of nothing, and I don't know what their real interest is. I didn't see any of this."

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