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Western-Funded Russian Vote Watchdog Complains of Pressure

By Henry Meyer
December 02, 2011 12:34 PM EST

A Russian vote-monitoring group said authorities are hindering its observation of parliamentary elections this weekend as a Moscow court imposed a fine in a case brought by prosecutors.

“The most important aim is to prevent us from monitoring the vote, so we can’t get a full picture allowing us to issue our findings as we do for every election,” Olga Novosad, a spokeswoman for Golos, or Voice, said by phone today.

Moscow prosecutors yesterday issued a warning against Golos after “uncovering violations of the electoral law” and filed an administrative case against the group. The tribunal fined Golos 30,000 rubles ($970), Novosad said.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party may get about 53 percent in Dec. 4 elections to the State Duma, from 64 percent in 2007, according to reports released Nov. 25 by the state-run All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion, or VTsIOM, and the independent Levada center. That would be the first time it fared worse at nationwide polls compared with a previous ballot since its creation by then-President Putin 10 years ago.

Foreign powers are seeking to intervene in the election by financing civil-society groups, Putin said at a United Russia party congress in Moscow on Nov. 27, when he accepted the party’s nomination to run for a third term as president in March. He didn’t specify which countries he referred to.

‘Judas’

“Judas isn’t the most respected biblical character among our people,” Putin said. Foreign governments should “direct that money toward paying down their own state debt and end this ineffective and costly foreign policy.”

Golos has received 520,000 euros ($701,532) in European Union funding since 2006, according to the European Commission’s Moscow representative office. Golos has also received U.S. grants, Novosad said. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined to comment.

The group plans to deploy 3,000 observers in 40 of 83 Russian regions in the election. Authorities in various parts of Russia have been pressuring Golos volunteers to stop their activities and the Ministry of Justice conducted a search of its office in Novosibirsk in Siberia, it said today.

‘Non-Political Program’

“It’s a misperception that sometimes pops up in Russian debate that the EU would support organizations like Golos in an attempt to favor a certain political agenda,” Soren Liborius, a spokesman in Moscow for the European Commission, the 27-nation trading group’s executive arm, said in a telephone today. “The EU support to Golos is part of a general, non-political program.”

Europe’s main election watchdog, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe, is also deploying observers for the elections. International observers condemned the previous polls in 2007 won by Putin’s party as undemocratic.

About 5,000 electoral violations have been recorded so far, according to a website set up by Golos. A banner link to Golos’s map of violations was this week removed from news website Gazeta.ru, owned by billionaire Alisher Usmanov. The publication’s deputy editor resigned in protest.

Freedom House, a Washington-based democracy watchdog, called on the Russian government to end its “legal and media assault” on Golos, which it said has been the subject of several critical articles in state-controlled media.

‘Serious Questions’

“There can be little doubt that these attacks on Golos are being conducted on behalf of the Russian leadership and its party of power, United Russia,” David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House, said in an e-mailed statement. “The campaign against Golos is yet another reason to raise serious questions about the legitimacy, openness and competitiveness of Russia’s parliamentary election.”

The three main Russian opposition parties, the Communists, the Liberal Democratic Party and Just Russia, said this week their candidates and activists have been beaten and arrested, while authorities have seized campaign materials and distributed false literature. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, and the premier’s United Russia party denied the accusations. The Central Electoral Commission didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Putin, 59, first came to power in 2000 and may rule for two more six-year terms, making him the longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. President Dmitry Medvedev, who took over in 2008 because Putin was constitutionally barred from serving three consecutive terms, agreed in September to swap jobs with Putin next May, taking the premier’s post.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Meyer in Moscow at hmeyer4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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