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Cablegate: Russia: Local Officials, Ngos Prepare for Duma Elections

VZCZCXRO8561
RR RUEHDBU RUEHLN RUEHPOD RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #4140 2360243
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240243Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3187
INFO RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2374
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 2664
RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4425

UNCLAS MOSCOW 004140

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA: LOCAL OFFICIALS, NGOS PREPARE FOR DUMA ELECTIONS

REF: MOSCOW 3995, MOSCOW 3991

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) The growing influence of United Russia and the extent to
which the ruling party is pre-positioning itself for the December
Duma elections was evident in Voronezh during an August 6-8 visit to
the region (ref A). While the regional election commission chairman
and NGOs described their working relationship as positive, the
chairman's recent decision to join United Russia has cast doubt on
his objectivity. At least one NGO has dismissed participating in
election observations, claiming that the outcome was predetermined.
End Summary.

-------------------------------------
Election Commission Chairman Selyanin
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Vladimir Selyanin has been the chairman of Voronezh
Oblast's election commission since 1993. His reputation for
fairness was recently questioned by the news that he had joined the
United Russia party. He told us that his goal was to increase voter
participation from an already respectable 60-65 percent to 75-80
percent in the December Duma elections. He was somewhat dismissive
of the new Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov, who
has been criticized for his lack of experience, and said "we will
follow the requirements of the law, not what the chairman says."

3. (SBU) Selyanin told us that the Voronezh region welcomed election
monitors because they are essential in ensuring free and fair
elections, and noted that he has had much experience with them in
the region. He expressed concern about having "too much of a good
thing" by citing an example from the last election where one polling
station had 56 monitors watching it.

--------------------------
NGOs and Election Monitors
--------------------------

4. (SBU) Natalia Zvyagina, the regional coordinator of the
election-monitoring NGO Golos ("Vote") told us that the Voronezh
election commission is an exception in this oblast administration,
which has largely been closed off to them. She said that her
relationship with Selyanin was good, and that he regularly meets
with Golos and other NGOs to explain changes in election law.
Russian law currently allows only representatives of political
parties and journalists to serve as monitors in the December
elections, and, as in other regions throughout Russia, Golos is
preparing to publish an election-monitoring "journal" and have its
activists monitor the elections as journalists. The downside to
this strategy, Zvyagina claimed, is that journalists are only
allowed to observe, not to file complaints.

5. (SBU) Another NGO representative we met with had no interest in
the elections or taking part as a monitor. "What's to monitor? The
outcome is already known," stated Andrey Yurov of Youth Human Rights
Movement (YHRM). Yurov has recently appealed to a Nizhniy Novgorod
court to reverse the de-registration of YHRM (Ref B).

---------------------------------------------
Election Commission Chair Joins United Russia
---------------------------------------------

6. (SBU) Subsequent to our meeting with Election Commission Chairman
Selyanin, we were told by several NGO representatives, including
Golos, that the chairman had joined United Russia the week before.
They suspected that he had been given the choice of joining the
dominant party or losing the job that he has held for 14 years.
Whether he did it under pressure or of his own volition, they said,
still revealed the growing influence of the United Russia party in
regional politics.

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) As detailed in Ref A, United Russia dominates the political
scene in Voronezh. By adding the regional election commission
chairman to their ranks, the party has undermined the integrity of
one of the only independent authorities in the region. Whether this
will have a practical effect on the election results remains to be
seen, but the skepticism that such a maneuver invites damages the
credibility of the elections.

MELVILLE

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