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Russia Election Chief Rejects Fraud Claims in Presidential Vote

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The chairman of Russia’s election panel denied Tuesday that results from last spring’s presidential balloting were falsified, dismissing claims of large-scale vote fraud reported by a Moscow newspaper.

“We don’t have a single serious document that casts doubt on the outcome of the Russian presidential elections,” said Alexander Veshnyakov, chairman of the Central Election Commission. “I’m completely confident that there are no serious facts” behind the report.

President Vladimir V. Putin won the March 26 election with nearly 53% of the ballots, avoiding a runoff election by about 2 million votes.

The respected English-language Moscow Times on Saturday alleged that vote counts were falsified and voter registrations doctored in more than half a dozen regions, and described the scale of the fraud as sufficient to change the result of the election.

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“Given how close the vote was--Putin won with just 52.94% or a slim margin of 2.2 million votes--fraud and abuse of power appear to have been decisive,” the newspaper wrote.

According to the newspaper, the worst alleged fraud took place in the republic of Dagestan. The newspaper obtained copies of the vote tallies from 16% of the republic’s precincts and compared them to the official results reported from those precincts. The official results showed 88,000 more pro-Putin votes than the precincts’ own tallies, it said.

If the same degree of falsification took place in the republic’s other districts, the newspaper said, Putin could have been credited with at least 551,000 more votes than he received from Dagestan, only one of Russia’s 89 regions.

“In other regions, the same sort of correcting-fluid falsification--the clumsiest imaginable, where higher-level elections officials simply contradict the official reports of lower-level officials and hope no one will notice--can also be documented,” the newspaper reported.

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Veshnyakov took issue with the newspaper’s methodology.

“On the basis of assumptions, any one of you can assert anything at all,” he said at a news conference. “When you base reporting on assumptions, that suggests you don’t have any facts.”

The newspaper cited other evidence of alleged vote fraud, including:

* Ashes--which it said were from burned ballots--collected by its reporter outside a polling station in Dagestan. A witness who reportedly watched as the ballots were being burned told the newspaper that they were marked for Putin’s chief opponent, Communist Party leader Gennady A. Zyuganov.

* Between December parliamentary elections and the March presidential balloting, the number of registered voters in Russia jumped by 1.3 million, according to official information. The Moscow Times said the number is far larger than can be explained by the Central Election Commission. The number of registered voters appeared to jump most markedly in regions believed to have the most problems with voting fraud, including Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkir and Saratov.

* In several areas, voters reported being bullied or paid to cast votes for Putin. In the republic of Tatarstan, the head of the elections media center confirmed to the newspaper the existence of the “caterpillar"--a fraud in which people outside polling stations offered voters money and gave them marked ballots to put in the box. The voters then brought out their blank ballot, which fraud participants filled out and gave to other willing voters.

The newspaper said the fraud campaign appeared not to have been ordered directly by the Kremlin but more likely was organized by governors on their own initiative to earn favor with national leaders.

Even if a second-round election had been required, Putin probably would have won. His likely opponent, Zyuganov, took 29.2% of votes in the March election.

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Reports of vote fraud emerged during and just after the election. Zyuganov, for instance, claimed that he had been robbed of 7 million votes.

In a preliminary report on the election, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--which sent nearly 400 officials to observe the balloting--noted that irregularities had been seen but that they “did not appear to have an impact on the outcome of the election.”

However, in its final report, the OSCE described the fraud allegations as serious. The group said it did not have the means to evaluate their validity but urged Russian authorities to investigate.

In his news conference, Veshnyakov said the election commission had looked into complaints by the Communist Party and others and found them groundless.

The OSCE did not respond to phone calls seeking comment on the Moscow Times report.

*

The documentation collected by the Moscow Times is available on the newspaper’s Web site, https://www.themoscowtimes.com. The OSCE reports on the election are available at https://www.osce.org/odihr/elecrep.htm.


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