Electoral fraud suspected in Russian stateless nations

Chechnya and Ingushetia, in the North Caucasus, have registered some of the highest turnouts in the whole of the Russian Federation. Elsewhere, for example in the Komi Republic, vote-buying on a massive scale has been detected.

As predicted, the candidate officially endorsed by Vladimir Putin, Dimitri Medvedev, has emerged as the winner of yesterday's presidential elections in Russia. Medvedev's landslide victory (he received 70% of the vote in the whole Federation) is particularly suspicious in the stateless nations of the North Caucasus, Ingushetia and Chechnya.

According to Prague Watchdog, the official turnout in the Republic of Ingushetia was 92.3%, while 91.6% are said to have voted for Putin's successor. These figures would seem to contradict the current political instability in Ingushetia, where widely-supported opposition movements have recently led protests that apparently had very little impact on the ballot.

The situation is similar in the neighbouring Republic of Chechnya. In a context of open conflict between the Russian authorities and the Chechen secessionist guerrilla, the official figures seem to be the results of an election held in a well-established and highly participatory democracy rather than a war-torn region such as Chechnya: turnout was apparently 91.2%, with 88.7% voting for Medvedev's party.

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has identified a specific case of vote-rigging. In the Komi Republic, north of Moscow, journalists have found evidence of the pro-Putin United Russia party buying votes from students and the poor.

Elections under international scrutiny
The elections have taken place at a time when Russia is already under the spotlight abuses of freedom of speech, especially regarding minority groups. Last week Amnesty International claimed that "drastic restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to hold meetings" had been made during the election campaign, and quoted cases of opposition protests being broken up with violence.

International War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) is a media development organization that reports on conflicts across the globe, focusing particularly on Chechnya and Ingushetia. IWPR's activities in the Caucasus were severely hampered by the Russian authorities. Computers and documents were confiscated from their offices in the Caucasus, under the pretext that IWPR was "operating illegally in Russian territory."

The Russian authorities have also put pressure on journalists and the media. The Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES) expressed disapproval after a journalist from The New Times, a weekly news magazine hostile to the government, was detained at Moscow Airport. The magazine has reported on the campaign launched to prevent the Russian Union of Journalists from being banned.


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