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Russia's Ruling Party Accused Of Pressuring Voters

By Peter Fedynsky

Russia's Ruling Party Accused of Pressuring Voters

President Vladimir Putin continues his campaign on behalf of the ruling United Russia Party amid charges the organization is pressuring voters to cast ballots on its behalf in Sunday's parliamentary election. Such pressure violates Russian law.

In televised remarks to the nation, President Putin again urged voters to cast ballots for his United Russia Party in order to keep the country's economy growing.

The Russian leader cautioned against voting for people who ruled unsuccessfully in the past. According to Mr. Putin, they would halt Russia's development and return the country to a time of humiliation, dependence and collapse.

Mr. Putin's speech was announced in advance, and it aired throughout the day on nationwide news programs.

Opposing views and criticism of the Kremlin are not allowed on national television, but appear instead in small newspapers.

Vedomosti, a daily newspaper with a circulation of less than 75,000, is one of several publications with stories this week about organized pressure on voters to cast ballots on behalf of the ruling United Russia Party. The Thursday edition cites a source in the Education Department of Rostov in southern Russia as saying political pressure has been applied on school principals.

They, in turn, order teachers to call parents to discuss student progress with a recommendation to vote on Sunday. The newspaper reports that a follow-up call is to be made on Sunday to determine which parents voted.

Various domestic sources and international wire services report similar pressure on office and factory workers, physicians, and others.

Tuesday, the English-language Moscow Times quoted an unnamed official in Russia's Central Election Commission as saying it received orders to double the vote count in favor of United Russia.

Independent lawmaker and former speaker of the Russian Parliament Vladimir Ryzhkov tells VOA he has not seen such get-out-the-vote pressure since the Soviet era.

Ryzhkov says pressure to vote for United Russia is being backed with threats of job loss, denial of rewards and other negative consequences.

The Golos Association, an independent Russian election monitoring group, says pressuring voters violates the country's constitution as well as specific federal laws that protect the principle that voting is voluntary.

The association's Lilia Shebenova tells the VOA that senior government officials violate such laws when they seek to influence voting by subordinates.

Shebenova says Russian law defines campaigning as all activity aimed at convincing people to vote for or against a given party. She says senior officials are routinely breaking the law by urging employees to vote for a specific party or its leading members.

Beyond the pressure, some opposition parties have been barred from fielding candidates in the election, including the opposition coalition of former chess champion Garry Kasparov and Vladimir Ryzhkov's Republican Party.

Mr. Putin's name tops the United Russia Party list and the president has said he might consider being prime minister. Ryzhkov says it is important for United Russia to get at least a 60 percent voter turnout to allow President Putin to claim popular support.

Wednesday, Amnesty International raised concerns about the pre-election period in Russia. A statement issued in Washington by the human rights organization condemned the detention of scores of activists on Saturday, including Kasparov.

He was released Thursday following a five-day jail sentence for participating in an opposition demonstration deemed illegal by Russian authorities.


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