Vladimir Putin’s critics cry foul over alleged voter fraud in Russian election
Photo: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Two women hover over a ballot box in the industrial Russian city of Cherepovets, stuffing in ballot after ballot. On the streets of Moscow, an independent election monitor armed with an iPhone trails a van full of "carousel" voters – people bussed from polling site to polling site in order to cast multiple votes for Vladimir Putin.
Three months after Moscow exploded in a storm of fury over allegedly widespread electoral fraud during the country’s parliamentary vote, Russians went to the polls to vote against or, mostly, for Vladimir Putin in his quest to return to the presidency.
Putin quickly claimed victory, waiting until just over 20% of votes were counted, but his opponents just as quickly cried foul, armed with reels of evidence of alleged fraud. They uploaded them by the thousands to their Twitter accounts and LiveJournal blogs, helping the indignation go viral.
"Russia has no legitimate government or legitimate president," opposition leader Alexey Navalny said, addressing press and supporters at a makeshift headquarters at a central Moscow cafe. "He who has declared himself president is a usurper."
The tension on the streets was palpable. Interior ministry troops, backed by army trucks, arrest vans and bomb sappers, flooded central Moscow. They stood, camouflaged, with their backs to the Kremlin, guarding its residents against some unknown threat.
Outside, democracy à la russe was being carried out in polling sites around the country. Millions turned up at ballot boxes set up in schools, academies and even grocery shops to fulfil their civic duty, despite the widespread belief that the result had been decided for them.
Nadezhda Dvornikova, a 57-year-old pensioner, held her grandson by the hand as she walked the halls of Moscow’s Polytechnical College. "I voted for Putin," she said quietly. "I trust him." When asked if she thought her vote would make a difference, she said: "No, I don’t trust the results." Then why vote? "We were raised that way."
Though "democracy" came to Russia only 20 years ago, elections were a regular feature of the Soviet system. There was no choice and no surprise, but Soviet citizens turned out again and again to cast a formal vote for a decision that was out of their hands.
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