Protests against "poll fraud" roil Russia

Last Updated: Tue, Dec 06, 2011 07:52 hrs

Moscow, Dec 6 (IBNS) People in thousands gathered in Moscow on Monday to protest what they called poll fraud in the weekend elections to the Russian State Duma, while the results showed a declining support base of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin though he managed to hold on to a majority.

Putin´s United Russia party led government claimed the elections held on Dec 4 as fair.

Putin´s party had managed little less than 50% votes, down from 2007´s share of 64%.

However, the party of Putin despite the reduced vote share could achieve a simple majority.

Media reports said about 5000 protesters had taken to the streets in Moscow's Chistye Prudy area, followed by a police crackdown in which several hundred people were arrested.

The protesters included several independent voices in Russia.

The poll results are a setback for Putin who hopes to return as the President again next year for the third time. He is currently the Prime Minister while Dmitry Medvedev is now the present of Russia.

Officials said, however, around 2000 people were on the streets. Many denounced the party of Putin as one of "swindlers".

Protests were also reported from St. Petersburg and other parts of Russia.

According to international observers from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the polls were not entirely fair.

It said in a press statement that despite the lack of a level playing field during the Russian State Duma elections, voters took advantage of their right to express their choice.

It then went on to add that the observers noted that though the preparations for the elections were technically well-administered across a vast territory, they were marked by a convergence of the state and the governing party, limited political competition and a lack of fairness.

Although seven political parties ran, the prior denial of registration to certain parties had narrowed political competition, OSCE said.

"The contest was also slanted in favour of the ruling party: the election administration lacked independence, most media were partial and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels.

"The observers also noted that the legal framework had been improved in some respects and televised debates for all parties provided one level platform for contestants," OSCE said in a release.

It said on election day, voting was well organized overall, but the quality of the process deteriorated considerably during the count, which was characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulations, including serious indications of ballot box stuffing.

"Yesterday's elections proved that the Russian people can form the future of this country by expressing their will despite many obstacles. However, changes are needed for the will of the people to be respected. I particularly noticed the interference of the state in all levels of political life, the lack of necessary conditions for a fair competition and no independence of the media. I honour the effort of the Russian people to shape their democratic future in line with our common commitments," said Petros Efthymiou, the Special Co-ordinator to lead the short-term OSCE observer mission and Head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation.

Putin had served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus.

He became acting President on 31 Dec 1999, when president Boris Yeltsin resigned in a surprising move. Putin won the 2000 presidential election and in 2004 he was re-elected for a second term lasting until 7 May 2008.

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