Days before Russia’s presidential elections, police are trying to seize documents that give activist observers access to polling stations and a leading elections watchdog has unexpectedly seen its office lease revoked. “You shouldn’t hold this event here or you’ll have trouble,” Roman Udot, a representative for the independent Golos Association elections watchdog, said his landlord was told by police before they ripped up the contract. The “event” was a call centre to field reports of election violations. The government denies interfering. Russia’s short, frustrating and listless presidential campaign is grinding to its inevitable conclusion. Even Vladimir Putin hardly seems enthused, devoting less than two minutes to a final campaign speech in Crimea, the peninsula he annexed from Ukraine in 2014 to domestic acclaim and international condemnation.
… Beyond the lacklustre battle for votes this Sunday, there is a fiercer one over the vote monitors, as the opposition under Alexei Navalny backs a boycott and the Kremlin seeks legitimacy. Putin is expected to win Sunday’s vote handily, but the key question remains turnout, and opposition election monitors hope to be able to catch those padding the numbers in the act.
In recent weeks, police have raided several Navalny headquarters in the regions seeking documents called “directions” that allow observers to visit poll stations.
On Friday, the central elections committee stepped in. “We are not creating any barriers for anyone and will not allow it,” said Ella Pamfilova, the committee’s head, censuring overzealous police. Pamfilova, a former rights ombudsman, was tapped by the Putin administration in 2016 to improve the blemished reputation of Russia’s elections. She appears to have little clout.