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2009-04-27 10:38:00
Consulate St Petersburg
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Tags:   RS  PGOV 
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R 271038Z APR 09

E.O. 12958: N/A


E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: While United Russia won the March 1 municipal
elections in St. Petersburg by a wide margin, its victory was
tainted by accusations of electoral fraud. Allegations by
opposition groups range from improper denial of candidate
registration to outright vote stealing, and were fairly
widespread throughout the city. City authorities have been
reluctant to investigate the allegations, and so new revelations
exposing electoral fraud are unlikely. End Summary.

A United Russia Victory, but With Some Issues

2. (SBU) St. Petersburg held its local council elections on
March 1 in 108 of its 111 municipal districts. United Russia
(YR) won over 75% of the contested seats with 1,145 victorious
candidates. More than 99% of YR's candidates had been
successfully able to register for the election. This was in
stark contrast to the experience of large numbers of A Just
Russia, KPRF, Yabloko and independent candidates whose candidate
registration applications were often denied by their respective
local district election commissions. Complaints to the City
Election Commission (CEC) to overturn the decisions of the local
election commissions were mostly unfruitful, as the CEC
generally recommended the complainants refer their cases back to
the local election commissions or take their complaints to the
courts. Some opposition candidates were then able to register
through the local election commissions or through the courts.
However, this was often done only a few days before the
election, and consequently the candidates were unable to
effectively campaign. Various election-day irregularities also
cast a pall on the process. Overall, opposition activists
consider the St. Petersburg municipal election of March 1 to
have been blatantly unfair and fraudulent.

Registration Difficulties Set the Tone

3. (SBU) A Just Russia had serious difficulties in registering
its slate of candidates in the municipal election. Over 500 of
its candidates were unable to register at all, and more than
half of the party's registered candidates were able to register
only after successfully arguing their case in front of either
their respective local district election commissions or in the
court system. Members of A Just Russia also claim the city
district administrators (who are appointed by the governor)
pressured their candidates to withdraw from the election, with
those candidates whose jobs were government
related (such as in
the schools, universities, or hospitals) being subjected to
particularly heavy pressure.

4. (SBU) Yabloko candidates had similar registration problems,
with less than half of Yabloko-affiliated candidates making it
onto the ballot. Even so, the leaders of the St. Petersburg
branch of Yabloko believe that the current electoral system,
with its five-seat municipal election districts, has proven
beneficial for them. They note that their candidates who were
on the ballot did quite well, often coming in 4th or 5th place
even without strong campaigning, with five of the twelve
official Yabloko candidates being elected. Two more Yabloko
candidates also seem to have been elected, but have subsequently
been embroiled in an ongoing court dispute (see para 10).

5. (SBU) Local Yabloko leader Mikhail Amosov commented that it
had been difficult to implement Yabloko's informal pre-election
agreement with A Just Russia to avoid running their candidates
in the same districts, and thus dividing the anti-United Russia
vote. Often, candidates were notified that they were officially
registered just a few days before the election - after the
withdrawal deadline. Consequently, all candidates remained on
the ballot, and the votes of residents who did not want to
support YR were split between several opposition candidates,
thus enhancing United Russia's position.

Technicalities, Technicalities

6. (SBU) There were several ways the local district election
commissions denied candidates' registration. One of the most
common was for commission members to arbitrarily change the
numbers of the electoral districts, and then not inform all
potential candidates of the changes. Uninformed candidates thus
put the wrong district numbers on their applications, and so had
their applications rejected on the grounds of this "error." The
written rejections for the invalid applications often came too
late for the parties to hold another party conference which
could re-nominate the rejected candidates using the correct
district numbers. Suspiciously, it seemed that YR's candidates
always knew the correct district numbers, and did not have this
problem as YR candidates were generally registered without

7. (SBU) Another common reason for registration rejection was
based on the requirement that the party conferences which
nominated a party's candidates had to be attended by
representatives of the local election commissions in order to
validate the nominated candidates. A Just Russia argues that it
always sent invitations to the appropriate authorities and even
received postal delivery confirmations for them. Nonetheless,
local election commission members insisted they had never
received the invitations, and thus ruled that the nominating
conferences, and the nominated candidates, were invalid.

8. (SBU) Yabloko leaders also claim that many of their
candidates' applications were dismissed because of various
technicalities and rules that were unevenly applied. For
example, Amosov had his registration rejected because the
chairman of the local municipal unit (himself a Yabloko member)
had collected signatures for Amosov. The local election
commission deemed this activity to be an unlawful combination of
municipal duties with electioneering, and so thus justified
denying Amosov's registration.

Election Day Irregularities

9. (SBU) Opposition candidates also allege that fraud was
committed on electionday itself. A leading member of A Just
Russia alleges that his party members had discovered a ballot
box already stuffed with ballots before the polls had even
opened. Despite the eyewitness accounts, however, it took
nearly a month before the law enforcement agencies opened a case
to investigate the incident.

10. (SBU) Two candidates supported by Yabloko alleged that their
victories were stolen, stating that the vote results were
tampered with and changed after the two had received initial
confirmation of their victories. The two candidates are
attempting to restore the initial election results through the
court system, and they have requested the prosecutors' office
open a fraud investigation. Six weeks after the election, no
investigation has been opened.

Possible Glimmers of Hope for Future Fairness?

11. (SBU) Interestingly, one of the United Russia candidates who
has officially won one of the allegedly stolen seats (para 10)
has stated that he is willing to forego his "victory" and
support the Yabloko candidate's case. The YR candidate blames
the alleged fraud on the local city district administrator, who
allegedly created obstacles not only for opposition candidates
but also for many United Russia candidates new to the party and
who apparently threatened the old boys' network in that
district. This statement corresponds with the opinion of some
local commentators who noted that United Russia's ranks were not
unified in the election, and that there was some significant
infighting between different factions of pro-government

12. (SBU) St. Petersburg City Election Commission officials have
been generally reticent regarding the March 1 municipal
elections. Commission members explain that election law does
not grant them much power, and that as such local election
disputes should be resolved through the local district election
commissions and through the courts. Though their ability to
enforce fairness in subsequent elections is limited, most senior
City Election Commission officials agree that it would make
sense to ease the registration rules and so minimize the
problems seen in this election cycle.

13. (SBU) Comment. It is highly unlikely that United Russia's
electoral victory was due entirely to fraud, as the party has a
significant base of support in the city. However, it also seems
undeniable that the elections were held on an uneven playing
field in an environment which heavily favored United Russia. We
are unlikely to ever know the real extent of electoral
manipulation that went on before, during, and directly after the
election, given the local authorities' apparent reluctance to
investigate allegations of fraud. United Russia has built up an
effective election winning machine in the city. This machine is
unlikely to be dislodged without the emergence of both
significant issues around which the opposition can rally and a
profound change in the political culture that will no longer
tolerate egregious electoral shenanigans. End Comment.