BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 01:02 GMT
Harassment claims mar Russia poll
By Richard Galpin
BBC News, Krasnoyarsk

President Putin drinks champagne with foreign envoys in Moscow. Photo: 28/11/07
Mr Putin has warned the world to steer clear of Russian politics
Russian President Vladimir Putin has assured foreign ambassadors that the parliamentary election on Sunday will be honest, transparent and - as he put it - "without systematic flaws or shortcomings".

But already some election monitoring groups and human rights organisations have accused the authorities of trying to manipulate the result by intimidating the opposition and pressurising voters into supporting the ruling party - United Russia.

Although in many ways this is a non-election - as it is widely assumed United Russia will again win a massive majority - much more rides on the result now that Mr Putin has become the party's top candidate.

United Russia is portraying the vote as a referendum on Mr Putin's eight years in office.

And when he visited Krasnoyarsk early in the campaign, Mr Putin himself increased the stakes by saying a big majority would give him the "moral right" to continue to wield political influence even after he comes to the end of his term as president next spring.

Fraud allegations

There is another key difference from the last election.

map

All the 85 powerful regional governors now owe their loyalty to the Kremlin. Instead of being elected by the local population, they are directly appointed by Mr Putin.

No surprise, then, that 75% of the governors have decided to run as the top candidates for the ruling party in their regions.

"Now there is an unique factor that was never before present in elections," said Nikolai Petrov, an expert on Russian regional government at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Moscow.

"The goal for governors is to deliver as many votes as possible... it is an exam for them to prove their loyalty and efficiency.

"So I would say that fraud is inevitable and will be higher than ever," Mr Petrov said.

'Warning'

A dingy apartment block in Krasnoyarsk might seem a strange place to go in search of evidence of this election being manipulated.

On voting day, all of them [work colleagues] have to call me by midday to say that they have voted for United Russia
Krasnoyarsk civil servant

But inside one of the small flats there was a civil servant who was willing to talk to us because - as she put it - she was "so disgusted with United Russia". She asked us to disguise her identity.

At a meeting at work three weeks ago, she says she was told by her manager that she would be responsible for all the staff in the office living in the same district as her.

"On voting day, all of them have to call me by midday to say that they have voted for United Russia," she said.

"I was told it was serious. It was like a warning," she went on.

Court case

Earlier, outside a city court, we came across another disillusioned citizen of Krasnoyarsk.

Vladislav Korolyov
Mr Korolyov claims his party's offices are being bugged

Vladislav Korolyov is local leader of the small liberal opposition party, the Union of Right Forces, which won seats in the regional parliament earlier this year.

We met him as he was about to enter court to hear the result of a case he had brought against police who confiscated almost two million election leaflets from his party earlier this month.

The police said the leaflets contained illegal advertising. The judge ruled in their favour.

Mr Korolyov was not surprised by the court's decision, alleging it was part of a "nationwide police operation" against his party.

"It includes following us around, bugging our phones and confiscating material," he said.

"Why are they so afraid of our party if the opinion polls show we will only get 1% [of the vote]," he added.

United Russia rally

From another building across town on a crisp Siberian winter's evening came the sound of Dixieland jazz.

Children perform at United Russia rally
The United Russia gathering was perfectly choreographed

It was followed by traditional Russian singing, high-energy dance music, and a low-energy boy-band.

Between the music came speeches and rapturous applause. It was a big campaign event for United Russia which - as in Moscow and elsewhere - was perfectly choreographed.

In the midst of the audience sat the chief guest - the governor of Krasnoyarsk, Alexander Khloponin. He heads United Russia's candidate list in the region.

Still in his early 40s, he is a popular man. As a former manager of a huge Siberian mining and metals conglomerate, he is respected as an efficient and energetic administrator.

"He's relatively liberal by the standards of Russian regional politics," says Prof Grigoriy Golosov of St Petersburg European University.

"And he's done a lot to promote the image of the region," he adds.

The governor was quick to dismiss the allegations that some members of his administration were trying to manipulate the election result in favour of the ruling party.

"Do you know anywhere where the opposition says anything else? It's the same everywhere," Mr Khloponin said.

Governor Alexander Khloponin
Governor Khloponin insists the election will be fair
But he pledged to take action if any official was caught acting illegally.

"If there is a real fact that someone has pressurised people, then that person will lose his job."

Mr Khloponin is said to be close to President Putin, but he denies being under any pressure from the Kremlin over the election.

"I feel no pressure," he said.

"I am responsible before our party. If people vote for other parties that means I have not been very effective."

He left with another pledge - that the election in Krasnoyarsk would be interesting and competitive with the Communist Party doing well.

On Monday, the people of Krasnoyarsk will know how much of a contest there has been.

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific