The election official had a problem. Workers at his polling station had been stuffing ballot boxes with votes for Vladimir Putin’s party all day, he says, but when the votes were counted United Russia still didn’t have enough. So he huddled with the election commission he chaired at the Moscow precinct. The decision: Putin’s party would get the desired 65 percent. One member objected, but relented when the others tossed his Communist Party a few dozen votes.
The commission chairman spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job. He also said he could be punished for disobeying orders to report any contact with foreign observers or journalists to the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB.
His account closely matches reports by independent observers of rampant vote-rigging during Sunday’s election, in which United Russia maintained its majority in parliament. Amateur videos posted on the Internet also appeared to show falsified ballots spilling out of boxes at polling stations.
Officially, United Russia got roughly 50 percent of the vote, a significant drop from the 64 percent the party won in the last election. But the reports of fraud indicate it may have lost even more support than those results suggest. Central Election Commission officials said they have received no reports of serious violations but would investigate any formal complaints.
This election was emerging as a watershed moment in a country where people have long seemed inured to vote manipulation, both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. The fraud allegations have set off protests in the street and stirred broader public indignation, suggesting that the political system Putin built to solidify his control has begun to crack just three months ahead of a vote on his return to the presidency. The lackluster opposition has suddenly been energized.
Anger over the election drew more than 5,000 people Monday night, in one of the biggest anti-Putin protests in years. Police detained about 300 protesters to prevent them from marching to the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin. New protests on Tuesday night were thwarted by police, who were out in force after having been taken by surprise the night before.
Amateur videos claiming to show the vote being rigged have spread via social media networks, including one in which the chairman of an election commission is filling out a stack of ballots. The clip attracted so much attention that city election officials were forced to acknowledge that the chairman had been caught falsifying the vote and could face charges.