State prosecutors paid a surprise visit to the Moscow office of Golos (‘Voice’), a Western-sponsored but operationally independent election watchdog, on Thursday and served it with legal papers accusing it of breaking the country’s election law. Demanding that its representatives appear in a Moscow courtroom on Friday morning, prosecutors accused the group of consistently painting a negative picture of an unnamed political party, an overt reference to Mr Putin’s United Russia party.
“It is obvious that the people who organised this campaign against us are the same people who are committing electoral fraud across the country,” Grigory Melkonyants, Golos’ executive director, told The Daily Telegraph. “It is an act of administrative (government pressure). It is a special operation designed to put us out of action and to destroy the only independent election watchdog in Russia.”
The United Russia party, which is led by Mr Putin, the prime minister, is expected to comfortably win Sunday’s vote albeit with a reduced majority reflecting the fact that some voters have tired of its dominance and been put off by a string of corruption scandals and a lack of real change in their lives.
But the Kremlin is said to be anxious that its share of the vote does not fall below the psychologically important barrier of 50 per cent as it has portrayed the vote, at least in part, as a vote of confidence in Vladimir Putin’s decision to return to the presidency next year for a third term.
The Kremlin has almost total control of state TV and Golos has been one of the few organisations able to catalogue and publicise its attempts at fraud and intimidation, something it has done with gusto. “These elections are neither free nor fair,” said Mr Melkonyants. “There has already been a significant number of violations. We have had mayors of entire towns forcing public sector workers to vote for United Russia on pain of dismissal.”