Russia votes amid fraud claims

Russia votes amid fraud claims

Russia votes amid fraud claims

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) gets his ballot to vote for parliamentary election at a polling station in Moscow. Russians voted yesterday in elections set to see Putin’s ruling party win a reduced majority. AFP photo

Russia voted yesterday in legislative elections set to see an erosion in the majority of Vladimir Putin’s ruling party and marred by claims the authorities have engaged in foul play to ensure its dominance.

The United Russia party of Putin was expected again to win the majority in the State Duma parliament but with fewer seats, as opponents said the authorities had downed websites and harassed monitors to limit dissent. The elections are seen as a crucial test of Putin’s popularity in Russia as he prepares to stand in March 2012 presidential elections to return to the Kremlin after his four-year stint as prime minister.

 Independent monitor group Golos (Voice), which claimed rampant violations in the campaign, said its “Map of Violations” website documenting reports of campaign fraud was the target of a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Meanwhile, the website of popular radio station Moscow Echo, which is owned by state gas monopoly Gazprom but often tackles sensitive issues, was the subject of a similar hacker attack.

“The attack on the website on election day is clearly an attempt to inhibit the publication of information about violations,” Moscow Echo editor-in-chief Alexei Venediktov wrote on Twitter. Online news portal also went down yesterday. “There is the feeling that the Central Election Commission, the prosecutors and the hackers are acting together,” Maxim Kashulinsky, general director of said.

Several other independent media sites, including prominent opposition magazine The New Times, also suffered shutdowns on yesterday, but the cause was not immediately clear. The online radio belonging to business daily Kommersant -- which had asked listeners to post any voting violations they had witnessed - was also down yesterday.

On Dec. 2, Golos was fined nearly $1,000 and became the subject of a prime-time television program that accused the “ostensibly independent observers” of acting in the interests of the U.S. government. Customs officials held Golos head Lilia Shibanova for 12 hours at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport and confiscated her laptop Dec. 3. President Dmitry Medvedev on Dec. 2 rejected claims of foul play saying elections were “one of the greatest manifestations of democracy.”

Russia’s two rulers -- who are set to swap jobs in 2012 with Medvedev becoming prime minister -- voted at separate polling stations without making any comment. Initial official results expected in the early hours of today.

Opinion polls have predicted that United Russia’s nationwide poll rating will drop from 2007 when it secured a landslide majority of 64.3 percent and won 315 seats in the State Duma. The three main opposition parties -- the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democrats and the populist A Just Russia -- should all see their support tick up without posing any significant challenge to United Russia.