Hundreds of Russian Communist Party supporters have rallied in Vladivostok against what they said was the brazen rigging of a regional election in favour of a politician backed by President Vladimir Putin.
With 95 percent of the ballots counted, Andrei Ishchenko of the Communist Party, had a five percent lead over a pro-Kremlin candidate in Sunday’s runoff vote for governor of the Primorsky region. But election officials reported a few hours later that, with all the votes counted, the Kremlin party’s Andrei Tarasenko was on top.
Ishchenko told a crowd of hundreds of people in central Vladivostok on Monday that the vote count had been rigged, and urged supporters to protest every evening until the result was overturned.
“At least 30,000 votes were stolen from us,” he told the crowd, saying the results had been rewritten overnight.
At least 30,000 votes were stolen from us
“We shouldn’t stand for it. We have gathered here today to show the authorities that we are the power here, that we decide what happens.”
Ishchenko had earlier said he would go on hunger strike until the result was annulled.
The upheaval in Vladivostok comes less than a week after Putin hosted the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea there at a major economic conference.
Putin also met Tarasenko, ahead of the runoff and told him, according to the transcript on the Kremlin website, that “everything is going to be fine”.
Gennady Zyuganov, the veteran leader of the Communist Party, called the situation “criminal lawlessness” and said planned nationwide protests by his party on Saturday would make the rigged election one of their central issues.
” … They stopped the vote count for four hours and started stuffing the ballot boxes using special bandit methods,” Zyuganov told a news briefing in Moscow, calling the imbroglio “a political Chernobyl”.
Ella Pamfilova, head of the central election commission, told Ekho Moskvy radio, her officials were analysing the vote and that she would send a special commission to investigate.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin was watching the situation and would be guided by Pamfilova.
Earlier this month, the Kremlin suffered several other blows in the regions of Khabarovsk, Khakasia and Vladimir where ruling party candidates failed to win gubernatorial elections in the first round.
Second-round runoffs are scheduled in those regions on Sunday.
Communists this month also beat United Russia candidates in elections to the regional parliaments of Khakasia, Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk regions.
It was the United Russia party’s worst performance in regional elections in more than a decade.