by Sarah Hurst
Vladimir Putin has been pulling out all the stops today to secure an overwhelming election victory. Fraud has been even more blatant than anticipated, with members of local electoral commissions from Dagestan to Yakutia caught on polling station videos stuffing ballots into ballot boxes. At some polling stations a slight effort was made to obscure the cameras’ view with curtains or balloons. In one case three men just stood in the middle of the polling station to block the cameras. At other polling stations the ballot boxes were not transparent, so there was no way of knowing how many ballots were in them.
At the moment when polls opened last night in Russia’s far eastern regions of Chukotka, Kamchatka and Sakhalin, some ballot boxes already had many votes in them. Crowds suddenly appeared at 8 am at a few polling stations, presumably to impress viewers of Russian TV, while many other polling stations only saw a small number of voters. But by this morning authorities were already claiming a turnout of 100 percent in 10 districts of Chukotka and Kamchatka.
Costumed characters and medals
Another method of ensuring a high turnout was to bring bus-loads of voters to polling stations, as happened all over Russia. In particular, military servicemen and state workers were seen voting in high numbers. A construction worker told Dozhd TV that he feared getting a pay cut if he didn’t vote. A woman who worked for Rosneft told a reporter that she needed written confirmation that she had voted. Voters were also enticed with bizarre forms of entertainment such as costumed characters and children dancing in polling stations, as well as cheap food and rewards – in occupied Crimea voters were given medals celebrating the fourth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.
Alexei Navalny has made an appearance on his YouTube channel, which is broadcasting live coverage of the election and the masses of violations that are taking place, and he plans to return to the screen later today. Russia has also been drumming up support at its embassies in other countries, with large numbers of people showing up to vote in Minsk and Bishkek. Putin’s friend Gerard Depardieu, who has become a Russian citizen, voted at the Russian embassy in Paris. Ukrainian authorities have banned the election from taking place because of the illegal vote in Crimea, and police and activists with Putin effigies have been blocking entry to the Russian embassy in Kiev and consulates around the country.
Some Putin opponents did show up to the polls to spoil their ballots. One wrote “Putin is war, theft, poverty, lies! Out of the Kremlin!” on a ballot paper. Another voter just drew a cartoon cat. One drew a picture of a penis and wrote “dick” next to the names of each of the candidates. But it is Putin who will inevitably have the last laugh as he takes another six years in power in a shameless flaunting of his contempt for democracy, human rights and international law.
Categories: Campaign diary
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