Bloomberg News

Putin Comes Under Pressure From Russia Vote Abuse Complaints

December 13, 2011

(Updates with watchdog warning from 11th paragraph.)

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Russia’s opposition is complaining of administrative abuses in the run-up to this weekend’s election, raising pressure on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who may need to persuade the public to accept austerity measures.

The Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia, which campaigns for more social spending, say their candidates and activists have been beaten and arrested, while authorities have seized campaign materials and distributed false literature. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, and the premier’s United Russia party deny the accusations. The Central Electoral Commission didn’t respond to requests for comment.

United Russia will forfeit its two-thirds majority needed to make changes to the constitution without other parties’ support, according to opinion polls. The premier, who plans to return as president next year, has said Russia needs to maintain the dominance of the ruling party to avoid succumbing to contagion from the euro region’s debt crisis.

“The government is under much more pressure than before,” Clemens Grafe, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in Moscow, said in a telephone interview. “Their support is waning and the opposition is hardening. If the United Russia party loses its majority, it will have a negative effect on the market. If they win 90 percent and the books look cooked, it will have a much more negative effect.”

Stocks, Ruble Gain

The RTS stock index is the world’s best performer this quarter, having gained more than 15 percent. The ruble has strengthened about 5 percent in the same period, more than any of the 31 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg except the Australian dollar and the South Korean won.

United Russia, whose party list is headed by President Dmitry Medvedev, may lose almost 65 seats to just over 250 in the 450-member State Duma, the lower house of parliament, according to a survey by independent polling agency Levada Center published Nov. 25. Sixty-six percent of Russians don’t believe that the government is acting in the interests of society, the pollster said in October.

After balancing this year’s budget, Russia will probably run a 2012 deficit of 1.5 percent of gross domestic product, Putin said Nov. 16. Next year’s pension deficit will double to 3 percent of GDP as payroll-tax cuts kick in and net retirees jump by half a million. Russia, which posted budget surpluses in 2000 to 2008, faces deficits of up to 3 percent through 2014 as oil prices fall, presidential aide Arkady Dvorkovich said in June.

‘Colossal Pressure’

There is “colossal pressure” on opposition candidates, Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov, who was stripped of his job as speaker of the upper house this year, said in an interview posted on his website on Nov. 21. Questions over the conduct of the vote would increase public discontent, he said.

“The legitimacy of the government is very important,” said Mironov, a former Putin ally who plans to run in the presidential election in March. “If we don’t want a North African scenario, legitimacy must be confirmed by honest elections.”

More than 4,000 electoral violations have been recorded so far, according to a website set up by Golos, a Russian non- governmental election watchdog.

Prosecutor Warning

Moscow prosecutors today issued a warning against Golos after “uncovering violations of the electoral law” and filed an administrative case against the association in court.

Golos’s map listing electoral violations was removed from news website Gazeta.ru, owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov, earlier this week and the publication’s deputy editor resigned in protest against the pressure.

“The prosecutors’ warning, as well as the removal of our map from a media website that was planning to continue cooperation with us, are a clear sign of pressure on our efforts to monitor elections independently,” Olga Novosad, a spokeswoman for Golos spokeswoman, said by phone. “We aren’t violating any law.”

Forty-six percent of Russians expect the outcome of the parliamentary vote to be manipulated by the authorities, according to the Levada poll, which surveyed 1,591 people from Nov. 18-21 and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

Unnamed Powers

Unnamed foreign powers are seeking to intervene in the election, Putin said at a United Russia party congress in Moscow on Nov. 27, when he accepted the party’s nomination to run for a third term as president.

The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, which is deploying observers for the elections, in 2007 condemned the previous polls won by Putin’s party as undemocratic. Russian authorities need to stop campaign violations, Knut Fleckenstein, a German member of the European Parliament who represents the chamber at the European Union- Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said in a Nov. 29 phone interview.

“Our wish here is that the Russian government will take care that these procedures during the campaign will be stopped,” he said. “Of course we have this interest that they are free and fair elections but I don’t know about any payments which interfered in the election process.”

Sakhalin, Yekaterinburg

Just Russia candidates have been beaten up in the Sakhalin region near Japan, and Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains, and some are being pressured to withdraw from the election, Anton Shaparin, a party official said in a telephone interview on Nov. 28.

A Communist candidate quit the race in the central region of Samara after he was assaulted and his family received threats, said Andrei Strogy, who monitors election abuses for the party. Other Duma contenders have been detained including in Tula, and Kaluga, both south of Moscow, Strogy said by phone on Nov. 29.

“Of course there are violations, and the further away you get from Moscow, the more of them you get and the more blatant they are,” Yaroslav Milov, a lawmaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, or LDPR, said by phone.

Kemerovo, a Siberian mining region, is one of the worst offenders, said Milov. Fliers claiming to be from the LDPR promising to cleanse the area of all non-Russians have been distributed there as part of “a deliberate campaign by the ruling party and regional government,” he said.

50,000 Newspapers

Police also impounded 50,000 LDPR newspapers that were being transported from Novosibirsk to Kemerovo, according to Milov. LDPR had to print campaign material in neighboring Novosibirsk because local printers were banned from working for the party, he said.

All opposition claims of violations are “fairy tales intended to provoke pity,” Ruslan Gattarov, a United Russia official, said by phone on Nov. 30.

There has been no official confirmation of any cases of administrative abuse, Peskov said in a phone interview on Nov. 30. United Russia, like “any party, is fighting with its political opponents through entirely legal means.”

Putin, 59, first came to power in 2000 and may rule for two more six-year terms, making him the longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. United Russia won 64 percent of the vote in 2007 elections after authorities raised the barrier for entry into parliament to 7 percent, blocking smaller parties.

“This time there is a real protest mood among the electorate, you can sense a real hatred for United Russia,” said the LDPR’s Milov.

--With assistance from Jason Corcoran and Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow. Editors: Balazs Penz, Paul Abelsky, Torrey Clark, Alan Crosby.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net


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