During her trip to Russia last week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that the country would best fulfil its potential if it opened its political system and allowed a greater degree of dissent. Clearly the regional elections of October 11 as well as the ballot for the Moscow city council, both of which have been decried as "rigged" by members of the Russian parliament and international election monitors, do not represent an opening up of the political system. In an attempt not to irritate the Kremlin by criticizing Russian domestic policy, Secretary Clinton did not comment directly on the outcome of the elections. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev described the ballots as "well-organized" and "conducted in accordance with the law."
The regional elections went ahead in 75 of Russia's 83 regions resulting in United Russia, the country's ruling party that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin serves as chairman, gathering 80% of the vote. Independent election observers have issued charges of mass electoral fraud during the voting, including the unavailability of polling places that were scheduled to be open, while a representative of a Russian non-governmental organization remarked that the violations were worse than in previous years.
Following United Russia's sweeping victories in regional and local elections, members of the ultranationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Just Russia walked out of parliament in protest. They demanded a re-count of the votes nationwide as well as a meeting with President Medvedev. Disappointment with his inability to deliver on previous promises to foster greater political diversity in Russia, most recently expressed in an October 7 speech to students at Moscow State University, likely fuelled the action as most of the parties involved have usually expressed dissatisfaction with Kremlin policies guardedly. The Kremlin has not confirmed whether Mr. Medvedev would participate in a meeting with the protesting parliamentarians, but such a move is unlikely as they have been berated on state television and their actions have been characterized as "moral terror" by Vladimir Churov, Chairman of the Central Election Commission.
An even bleaker picture emerged from the monitors observing the concurrent election for the Moscow city council. There, United Russia won 32 of the 35 available seats; the remaining 3 seats taken by members of the Communist Party. Yabloko, the liberal party that poses the greatest political challenge to Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov failed to meet the 7% threshold of votes necessary to obtain a seat. Some of its members were therefore disqualified from standing in the election due to alleged "irregularities."
The cavalier response of Russian officials to allegations of fraud in both elections is deeply troubling. If Moscow is intent on joining rule-based international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, whilst being a respected member of the global community, the Kremlin would be well advised to do more than pay lip service to the universal democratic principles that are enshrined in its constitution.
Elizabeth Zolotukhina is Head Editor of the Case Studies Working Group. She is currently working on a National Security Reform project.
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