12 Dec 2011

Russians Protest Over Flawed Elections

As you all probably know by now, there be protests in Russia following severe irregularities with the recent Russian ballot.These protests started out as a response to flawed Russian legislative election process, and these aren't small scale events. Russia hasn't seen mobs this large since the fall of the Soviet Union 22 years ago.

Here's what you need to know about the demands of the Russian people:
  • freedom for political prisoners
  • annulment of the election results
  • the resignation of the electoral commission head, Vladimir Churov
  • the opening of an investigation into vote fraud
  • registration of opposition parties and overall new democratic legislature
  • new open, democratic elections

Russian protesters in Bolotnaya Square

The Russian International News Agency cites more than 1000 reports of electoral irregularities (these include vote fraud, illegal campaigning, obstruction of observers, media bias, ballot stuffing, lack of impartiality in the election commission etc). Moreover, the agency reports that voters were transported between voting stations to cast multiple votes. Other irregularities include observers being denied the right to observe ballot box sealing, denied the gathering evidence of the electoral process (such as video recordings), and being outright kicked out from voting locations without grounds. The ruling party also alleges that the opposition distributed illegal pamphlets at voting stations and even threatened voters with violence.
The OSCE also drew attention to numerous illegalities, concluding that although preparations for the elections were technically well administered, there was a convergence between the Russian state and the governing party.
The international community has responded to these internal issues, often criticizing the electoral process. Hillary Clinton called the elections “neither free, nor fair”, to which Russian officials responded with indignation calling her accusations “unacceptable”. Putin hinted Clinton is only a symptom of international interference in Russian political sovereignty. What puts a smile on my face is the fact that Russian officials and Putin have responded to these accusations by pointing the finger at the US electoral system, calling it less liberal than its Russian counterpart. Current President Medvedev has reacted to the crisis by playing down concerns and urging the people to give the new parliament "a chance to work”, while Mikhail Gorbachev agreed with protesters calling the electoral process flawed, with great evidence of falsification and rigging and stating that results do not match the will of the Russian people.

I come from a country that is no stranger to political fraud, so it's hard for me not to sympathize with the Russian public on this matter. What's happening is wrong. People are being screwed out of their votes and they are reminded that their opinions are irrelevant in the face of the behind-the-curtains power play between political parties. Their most basic democratic rights are being violated in a manner that is anything but subtle or questionable. If all these concerns are indeed true, Russia is dealing with a massively corrupt and dysfunctional political system. The sheer amount of falsifications mean that it's very likely these results do not reflect the opinion of the Russian people. To avoid that alltogether and ensure a transparent democratic process, elections must be held again.
Personally, I believe that whenever an election stirs up this amount of allegations, accusations and official condemnations, results must be forfeit. Whether or not the accusations are true, is another thing altogether; however the sheer number of issues this round of Russian elections has faced is very likely a symptom of some underlying issue.
After all, there's no smoke without fire. 


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