Independent Russian vote monitor says election was a mockery

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 7:17 AM

By Lucy Papachristou

LONDON (Reuters) – An independent Russian vote monitoring group said on Monday that the presidential election that Vladimir Putin won in a landslide with nearly 90% of the vote was the most fraudulent and corrupt in the country’s history.

Golos (Voice) said the three-day election that ended on Sunday could not be considered genuine because “the campaign took place in a situation where the fundamental articles of the Russian Constitution, guaranteeing political rights and freedoms, were essentially not in effect”.

“Never before have we seen a presidential campaign that fell so far short of constitutional standards,” the group said in a statement.

The Kremlin on Monday hailed the result, on a record turnout of 77.4%, as showing that the Russian people had “consolidated” around Putin. It said Western attempts to portray the election as illegitimate were absurd.

The United States, Germany, Britain and others have said the vote was neither free nor fair due to the imprisonment of political opponents and censorship.

Founded in 2000, Golos is the only Russian electoral watchdog independent of the authorities. Branded a “foreign agent” in 2013, it was barred from sending observers to polling stations. One of its leaders, Grigory Melkonyants, is in prison awaiting trial on what Golos says are politicised charges.

Russia’s electoral commission said the vote took place under proper scrutiny. It said there were a third of a million Russian observers, nominated by candidates, parties and social organisations, as well as hundreds from abroad.


But Golos said candidates and parties had refrained from sending observers in some regions. In others, observers were withdrawn after voting commenced, it said.

“In private conversations, representatives of candidates and parties admitted that this was done under pressure,” Golos said.

Other “undesirable” observers were removed from polling stations and given summonses to appear at military registration offices during the voting period, while others were detained and searched, it added.

Golos said examples of voter intimidation included the presence of law enforcement officers in polling stations and reports that officers peered over voters’ shoulders to read their ballots.

One officer at a polling site in the Moscow region “snatched the completed ballot from one voter’s hand and checked who she voted for”, the group said.

Officers at another Moscow site demanded a local electoral official open a sealed ballot box and hand over one of the slips, Golos said.

Reuters could not independently verify these incidents.

There were scattered incidents of protests at polling stations. Some Russians set fire to voting booths or poured green dye into ballot boxes.

Calling such people “scumbags,” Russia’s election chief warned those who tried to disrupt voting would face five years in jail, and former president Dmitry Medvedev said they could be charged with treason.

At least 74 people were arrested across Russia on Sunday’s final day of voting, according to rights group OVD-Info.

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Gareth Jones)