Chechnya: High Voter Turnout Questioned

Human rights groups who monitored the ballot suggest that large numbers of voters stayed away.

Chechnya: High Voter Turnout Questioned

Human rights groups who monitored the ballot suggest that large numbers of voters stayed away.

Saturday, 5 November, 2005
As officials in Chechnya proclaim that the weekend election was an overwhelming success, independent observers say they did not see anything like the high numbers of people who are said to have voted.

According to preliminary results released by Chechnya’s Central Electoral Commission, the United Russia party – the dominant party in Russia as a whole which fielded 49 of the 354 candidates standing for the Chechen assembly - had a predictably easy win in the November 27 ballot, carrying off nearly 62 per cent of the vote.

Local candidates standing for the Russian Communist Party came a poor second with 12 per cent of the vote, with the liberal Union of Right Forces, SPS, following close behind at nearly 11 per cent. No other party got past the five per cent threshold required to win seats in the 58-member Chechen parliament.

Election officials insist that the vote passed off peacefully with no significant violations. They also say the minimum turnout required to validate the election - 25 per cent of the 597,000 registered voters - was easily met by midday.

On the morning of election day, Chechen president Alu Alkhanov was saying confidently, “I am sure my countrymen will come out to vote. I don’t want to talk about percentages, but I have been assured that turnout will be at least 70 per cent.”

Official results suggest that turnout was over 60 per cent.

Human rights groups and others who monitored polls question the assertion that large numbers of people came out to vote.

“I personally visited several polling stations in the Staropromyslovsky district of Grozny on the morning of the election,” a representative of the Moscow-based human rights group Memorial, who asked not to be named, told IWPR, “At all of them, I saw bored policemen checking the passports of people going into the polling station, and there were only a few people going in to vote.”

The Memorial election observer counted just 40 people who had voted at one polling station located in a residential area by ten in the morning, two hours after polls opened. At another location, he counted just 20 people who had voted by 10.20 in the morning, although this changed when two buses arrived carrying up to 70 refugees from their temporary accommodation. An hour later, at a third polling station, just 88 out of the 2,527 registered voters had turned up.

From these and similar accounts, Memorial has built up a picture of general apathy, and issued a statement concluding that “voting in the Chechen capital [Grozny] was at a significantly lower level than in earlier elections…. The capital’s residents largely ignored the election.”

The group drew attention to “clear disparities in the turnout figures obtained from [constituency election] commission chairmen and the observers from the political parties”.

As well as questionable turnout figures, some observers also reported intimidation and other breaches of election procedure.

Yabloko, a liberal party which with just over three per cent of the vote failed to win any parliamentary seats, reported a number of cases where its observers were threatened. In the Staropromyslovsky district of Grozny, Yabloko supporters were reportedly told to leave the polling station if they wanted to “get home alive”.

One oddity of this election is that the 33,000 Russian military servicemen deployed in this instable republic formed a significant constituency. Soldiers accounted for more than five per cent of the registered electorate, and 19 polling stations were opened to cater for them.

As a result, the Itum-Kale district, a sparsely populated constituency high in the mountains bordering Georgia, has returned the local Russian military commander, Colonel Aleksandr Radvan, as a member of the Chechen parliament.

A 53-year-old Grozny resident interviewed by IWPR appeared to reflect a more general mood when he dismissed the election as an event of little interest to most people, since the outcome was such a foregone conclusion.

“There is only one word to describe this election, just like all previous events of this kind… they’re a farce,” he said. “The public openly ignore them, because they have long since grown tired of endless lies and deceit from the authorities, both local and [Russian] federal.”

This man insisted that neither he nor anyone he knew had voted, but added that “our minimal participation in elections has no influence whatsoever on the outcome…. Our votes won’t change anything.

“Everything was decided months ago - which party would make it into parliament and which of the single mandate [independent] candidates would be elected. Back then, they were saying that the Union of Right Forces would get in because they’ve got [Magomed] Khambiyev, and that Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov would become speaker of parliament. And I think that’s is precisely what will happen in the very near future.”

Umalt Dudayev is the pseudonym of a Chechen journalist who is a regular IWPR contributor.
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