WASHINGTON – Russians will choose 450 members of the national parliament Sunday,and many experts fear fraud could affect the outcome.
It’s the sixth time for Russia to elect a new State Duma,the lower house of the national parliament. This election will be followed by the presidential election March 4.
Experts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace organization predicted the possible fraud.
“I would expect these allegations,and particularly on the election night and the day after,” Dmitri Trenin,director of the Carnegie Moscow Center,said. “I think that we will hear a lot about irregularities and violations as the polling stations close.”
The fear of fraud was inspired by the announcement that 600 blank ballots have disappeared. Some were stolen from regional election stations and some were burned.
The secretary of the Russian Central Election Commission Nikolay Konkin said Monday 601 numbered ballots have been invalidated.
“In case any of these ballots appear in any territory of Russian Federation,even abroad,they will be invalid,” Konkin said at a meeting in Moscow broadcast on the Russian Central Election Commission’s official website.
For the first time,ballots are protected by a mark that cannot be faked.
The Russian Election Commission started sending some of the 2.6 million ballots to regional elections commissions and abroad on Oct. 19.
Seven registered parties are backing about 3,000 candidates for the 450 seats.
Parties that were represented in fifth State Duma – United Russia,Communist Party,Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia party – were automatically eligible to participate in the elections.
Three other parties – Patriots of Russia,Yabloko and Right Cause – were included on the list by the Electoral Commission after they presented signatures of 150,000 supporters.
Trenin said the ruling party of Russia,United Russia,stands to lose its current two-thirds majority in the State Duma.
Despite this,Trenin said opinion polls show United Russia,the party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev,is still likely to get more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Polls say the Communist Party will get more than 15 percent and Liberal Democrats 10 percent. The Just Russia party may get 7 percent,the minimum threshold to get seats in the Duma,Trenin said.
“Other parties will continue to languish outside of the Russia parliament,as they have since 2003,” Trenin said.
Matthew Rojansky,a deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie center,said the government’s refusal to register some opposition parties is “shaping what the outcome is going to be.”
People’s Freedom Party (Parnas) was denied registration in June. Officials said there were a range of irregularities in paperwork,including a list of dead persons among its signed supporters. The party members insist they were denied due to political reasons.
A total of 649 international observers from several international organizations have been delegated to Russia to monitor the elections. The delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Counsel of Europe arrived in Moscow on Tuesday.
Rojansky said observers need to be involved in Russian elections for a long time or there would be no sense in having them at all.
“Even the long-term observers who are going to Russia now have only been there since the end of October,” Rojansky said. “The reality is you have to observe the political process as it’s unfolded for years in Russia.”
Another fear is that voters will reject the results,Trenin said.
“I see a lot of resentment and grudging in the air,” Trenin said. “A lot of people are unhappy with the authorities,and they are out to vent their anger against Mr. Putin’s party.”
More than 50,000 police officers from around Russia will be on hand in Moscow on election day,Trenin said.
However,Trenin said,“Very few people are actually likely to go to the streets to take any form of action to challenge the election results when they are publicized.”
Citizens of the Russian Federation who are in the U.S. may vote in many cities,including the Russian Embassy here.
The results of the elections will be announced at 10 a.m. Monday Moscow time,which is 1 a.m. EST.
Reach reporter Lyudmila Tsubiks at [email protected] or 202-326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.