Russians headed to the polls on September 8 in local elections that, to many, after widespread protests over blocked candidate registrations in Moscow, are doubling as a test of the rule of law and support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies.
Voters in 16 regions, stretching from St. Petersburg to the Sakhalin Islands, will choose new governors. Elections for local and regional assemblies are also taking place in 13 different regions.
From alleged gunfire by masked men on horseback to robot calls from, supposedly, President Putin and opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, a steady stream of reported election violations has marked the day.
The state-run news agency RIA Novosti, however, initially stuck primarily to reporting turnout figures.
It posted one Instagram-style shot from a Moscow-region publication, Kostelniki Segodnya, that featured a grandfatherly voter expressing an opinion that many in power may hope other voters will share as well: “I’m content with my life.”
Voting ends at 8pm, Moscow time.
Ballot-Box Stuffing In The Smart-Phone Era
Some analogue election habits, apparently, die hard. Without paying heed to a Communist Party observer filming the voting with his phone, one man appeared to drop a heavy bundle of ballots into a ballot box in polling station #291 in the Volga River city of Kazan.
On St. Petersburg’s Dekabristov Island, the Golos (Voice) election-monitoring group reports that ballots already marked in favor of city council candidate Natalya Ivanova, a candidate for the ruling United Russia party, have been found in various election commissions The ballots were confiscated.
On the outskirts of Moscow, in Sergiyev Posad, a candidate from the opposition Yabloko party sounded an alarm about two bundles of ballots, reportedly marked for the pro-government United Russia candidate, in the ballot box at polling station #4052. One unidentified man was filmed alleging that the election commission chairwoman had dumped the ballots into the container. Police are investigating.
Reports: Observers Attacked And Detained
The Golos election-monitoring group stated that gunfire hit a bus with election observers and journalists driving from Krasnoyarsk Krai into southern Siberia’s republic of Tuva during the evening of September 7. There were no injuries reported.
RFE/RL’s Siberia.Reality reports that the alleged masked assailants were on horseback and fired at the bus’ wheels. Police, who say they found no signs of gunfire damage on the bus, maintain they cannot confirm the incident, Interfax reported.
A less violent attack – a beating by unknown assailants – on an observer from the election-observation-training organization Petersburg Observers has been reported in St. Petersburg.
Also in St. Petersburg, unidentified assailants poured green liquid on an election commission member, Anna Shleinikova, at the exit of her residence, according to opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s office in the city. Shleinikova tweeted that the attackers “had proposed” that she agree that she “wouldn’t interfere” in the work of a district election commission.
The law-enforcement watchdog OVD-Info reports that police have detained four supporters of Aleksei Navalny en route to observe the elections in the Volga town of Penza, 642 kilometers southeast of Moscow. Reasons for the detentions were not given.
Meanwhile, outside of Moscow, police have detained one Golos observer, Vladimir Yegorov, in the Dorogomilovo election commission, according to the group’s website. Golos states that police accused Yegorov of petty hooliganism. His colleagues believe that the detention is linked to his work as an observer. Police have countered that he was trying to get into the election commission without documents, Interfax reported.
“Invitations” To Vote From Putin And Navalny
Election watchdog Golos states that voters in the Siberian town of Gorno-Altaysk are receiving robot calls with the voice of Vladimir Putin praising United Russia’s policies. “I’m convinced: Together, we’ll cope with any difficulties,” the message concludes. The calls appear to come from a Moscow number (8-499-956-2883), the observers report.
A resident of Moscow likewise posted on Facebook that she had received a call “from Navalny.” In the call, the opposition figure’s voice urged voters to vote for a Communists of Russia candidate, Ivan Ostrikov, for the Moscow city council. In reality, Navalny, who is urging voters to vote for the candidate with the best chance of defeating Kremlin supporters, had advised supporters in this district to vote for a candidate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, in the Siberian city of Omsk, voters in at least one district were sent ballot-like notecards already marked for the government candidate.
Students That Study Together, Vote Together?
A Current Time correspondent has filmed a line of military cadets all voting together at polling station #134 on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island. The election commission chairman claimed that he “cannot” verify their registration.
The cadets themselves asked not to be filmed.
Observers at other polling stations in St. Petersburg also have reported about crowds of students appearing to vote.
In Moscow, universities have been one of the most politically sensitive spots of the election campaign, with routine reports of attempts to discourage young people from taking part in unauthorized protests over candidate registration.