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Cablegate: Duma Election: Voter Turnout High, Parties Allege

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1. (SBU) Summary: Eighteen regions of Russia have completed voting
and all signs are that voter turnout for the December 2 Duma
elections is expected to exceed 2003's turnout of 55.75 percent
although three hours remain before polls close across all of Russia.
The opposition SPS, Yabloko, and Communist parties are alleging
widespread election irregularities, similar to those reported in
2003 by OSCE. The chief source of new concern for all observers
-Communist Party, the NGO Golos, SPS, and others-is the more
widespread use of absentee ballots. Russian-national Embassy voters
reported an orderly process at their polling places in Moscow and
Moscow region. A CEC tour of a number of polling places,
unsurprisingly, showed the same. The U.S.-funded domestic election
observers were largely unimpeded. Their observations and those of
much smaller international observer missions, will frame results,
expected late evening December 2 or early a.m. December 3. End

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2. (SBU) If current trends hold, it should be high. The CEC is
reporting 42.4 percent as of 1600 local time and is predicting that
it will exceed 60 percent, about the 55.75 percent recorded in 2003,
but less than the 70 percent gunned for by United Russia supporters.
Ekho Moskvy reported that as of 1500 local turnout is two times
higher then it was at the same time in 2003. Sample comparative
turnout as of mid-afternoon for the following regions suggests that
turnout should be higher:

-- Amur: 44.6 percent (today), 32.5 percent (2003)
-- Khabarovsk region: 39.5 percent (today), 27.3 percent (2003)
-- Chita region: 37.46 percent (today), 27.2 percent (2003)
-- Sakhalin region: 37.14 percent (today), 33.6 percent (2003)
-- Primorsk region: 35.27 percent (today), 25.7 percent (2003)
-- Irkutsk region: 24.9 percent (today), 21.7 percent (2003)

Kamchatka and Chutkotka are closed and the Chukotka regional
election commission reports 76.7 percent, while Kamchatka reports
53.74 percent turnout.

Opposition and Violations

3. (SBU) By all accounts, the voting has been going smoothly, but
there are alleged irregularities. NGO Golos reports that it has
received about four thousand calls alleging violations on its
hotline. Opposition parties -SPS, the Communist Party, and
Yabloko-are alleging violations around the country. The nature of
the violations are similar with those seen in the 2003 Duma
elections: ballot box stuffing in Dagestan, difficulties with some
party and NGO Golos observers being admitted to polling places at
scattered locations throughout the country, allegations that some
voters have taken their ballots from the polling place in order
presumably to complete them under the supervision of a party or
administrative authority. There have been cases where voters have
phone-photoed their ballots, presumably to show their employers or
others whom they voted for, but these appear to be isolated
instances. In some cases polling places are holding "vote
lotteries" and offering prizes, following a drawing, for those who

4. (SBU) Other Russia's Gary Kasparov and Eduard Limonov invalidated
their ballots, writing "Other Russia" on them before depositing them
in the ballot box, in order to show their dissatisfaction with the
options available. SPS's Leonid Gozman complained of measures used
by United Russia to increase its returns, and argued that a Duma
elected in an election characterized by widespread violations cannot
be legitimate. He suggested that an elections "black book" be

5. (SBU) One new issue of concern with this election is absentee
ballots. About 700 thousand ballots were issued for the 2003
election. Embassy has not been able to determine how many have been
provided this time around, but the NGO Golos alleges, based on
fragmentary information, that the numbers are exponentially higher.
Per Golos, they are ten times higher in Moscow, thirteen times
higher in St. Petersburg, 28 times higher in Chuvashiya, and 54
times more numerous in Komi. The CEC-affiliated Russian Foundation
for Free Elections Chairman Andrey Przhedomskiy scored absentee
ballots as a worry in a press conference he gave on November 30. The
Communist Party has told us that Chairman Gennadiy Zyuganov will
highlight absentee ballots as its main area of concern at a press
conference scheduled for about 1800 local time, today.


6. (SBU) Russians with whom we have spoken report that voting has
been orderly, their polling places had observers from political
parties, there was no campaigning around or in the polling places.

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One individual who voted in Moscow region observed much higher than
usual voter turnout. It appeared to her that the voting lists had
been updated. (Her father had died since the election, and his name
was not on the list.) The majority of voters observed were
pensioners. There are polling places in all of Moscow's railroad
stations. A quick survey showed they are all clearly marked, guarded
by police, and there did not seem to be a large number of people
using them.

Voter Awareness

7. (SBU) It seems that everyone in the country was notified by SMS
on December 1 of the elections. Subways and surface public
transportation in Moscow have recordings reminding all to vote on
December 2. They are many new signs around Moscow reminding all of
the elections.

Moscow Oblast: An Official Snapshot

8. (SBU) On a tour organized by the Central Election Commission,
approximately 50 Moscow-based diplomats and bilateral international
observers were briefed on "combat day" by Moscow Election Commission
Chairwoman Valentine Simonov, as well as given a tour of several
polling stations in the Balashikha district of the Moscow region.
Smirnova explained that Moscow encompassed 3,325 polling stations,
reporting to 72 territorial commissions. The number of registered
voters was approximately 5.45 million, and 140,000 absentee ballots
had been requested. In addition to electoral reforms that made
these the first party-list only elections and removed the "against
all" option on the ballot, Smirnova noted new requirements to
facilitate access for disabled voters, with Moscow making 40 polling
stations wheelchair accessible and printing Braille electoral
pamphlets for the seeing impaired. Separate arrangements were made
to bring mobile ballot boxes to the homebound and those in
hospitals, with the voters' names recorded on separate lists.

9. (SBU) Visits to three electoral stations in Balashikha, out of
the 75 that serve the region's 167,000 residents, provided a
snap-shot of what we assume are model polling stations. The sites,
as most polling stations in Russia, were located in schools,
protected by the police, and run with cheerful efficiency by a
mostly female staff. Each of the polling stations had lists of
approximately 2,500 registered voters; as the steady stream of
voters entered, they were directed to tables on the basis of their
city address and had their identification verified and ballot
issued. We were shown lists of registered official party observers
(one station had six, another five), and were able to speak with the
one United Russia poll monitor then on site. There were no obvious
violations: no political "agitation" material was in evidence within
50 meters of the polling stations, and the school walls were devoid
of pictures. We observed that electoral norms often broke down
during the actual vote: spouses huddled over ballots together,
babushkas dragooned passersby into providing additional assistance
and frequently conferred with their neighbors before casting their
ballot. Local employees reported similar voting conditions at their
polling stations in Moscow: efficiently run, well attended, with
security in force.

10. (SBU) Although the tour took place early on voting morning,
election officials were optimistic of a high voter turnout.
Smirnova said that, in contrast to 2003, some polling sites were
confronted with lines when they opened at 8 a.m. In Moscow's
Balashikha region -- which is a densely populated residential area
-- officials were predicting up to a 70 percent turnout (compared to
2003's average of 55 percent). While voter participation averaged
17 percent at noon, one of the 75 polling stations had already
scored an impressive 44 percent turnout. When asked to describe the
discrepancy, the local election commissioner noted that the station
was located near a military facility "and our service men take their
duty to vote seriously." A disproportionate number of voters were
elderly, but there were plenty of families in evidence, with
children brought along to observe the process. Driving past some
electoral stations we saw signs of organized entertainment (dance
groups and children's choirs), with the Balashikha Election
Commission Chairwoman noting that in other areas of town youth
groups were handing out tickets to discotheques as a reward for
youthful voters showing up.


11. (SBU) As was noted in the ODIHR report on the 2003 Duma contest,
there no doubt have been irregularities today, but the chief problem
with these elections has been the conduct of the election campaign,
where administrative resources, access to the media, campaign
finance flows, and pressure on opposition parties combined to give
United Russia an overwhelming advantage. The problems alleged today

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are insignificant in comparison. On a positive note, U.S.-funded
domestic election observers appear to have operated freely, without
official interference. Their conclusions, and those of the far
fewer international observers, will help frame the results which
should be known by late tonight or early morning December 3.

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