Evidence continues to mount that the October 5 election was massively rigged. BBC correspondent Steve Rosenberg participated in an election day tour of Chechnya that was organized and closely controlled by the Russian authorities. He reported on October 11 that at a polling station in Achkhoi-Martan “there seemed to be more troops hanging around than voters. In fact, I could not see anyone taking part in the ballot at all. Still, that did not stop the local election chief boasting that the turnout was high. ‘But where is everybody?’ I asked, slightly puzzled. He did not know, he said, a little embarrassed, and scurried away.”
Mainat Abdulaeva reported in the October 9 issue of Novaya gazeta her own observations on election day. She visited about twenty polling places in various districts. The first was Grozny’s polling place No. 187, where she arrived as soon as it opened. “The first voters were the members of the [local] election commission. So far there were no local residents at all. I waited for them for half an hour. Not one arrived….” In the town of Samashki in western Chechnya, the head of the local administration told her that by noon turnout had reached 30 percent. Abdulaeva observed a young woman voting repeatedly, having arrived with seven passports. The local election officials told the reporter that the woman was simply voting on behalf of her elderly relatives, who were physically unable to come to the polls.
Abdulla Bugaev, one of the minor candidates against Kadyrov, was quoted in Russky kurier on October 10 as stating that “in the Shali district [southeast of Grozny], all the ballot boxes were transported via armored personnel carrier to the administration building. Our observers were not admitted to watch the counting of the votes. They were also not allowed to be present at the polling places in the Urus-Martan district. There are polling places for which was reported a turnout of 100 percent–and a 100 percent vote for Kadyrov. For example, of the 1,016 ballots cast in polling place No. 66, 1016 turned out to have been marked for Kadyrov. In polling place No. 95, 1,371 ballots were cast and all of them were for Kadyrov.”
Usam Baisaev of the Moscow-based Memorial human-rights center, who spent much of election day observing Chechen refugees in Ingushetia, challenged official claims that 1,200 of these refugees cast ballots in polling places especially prepared for them along the Chechen-Ingush border. “Several comfortable buses were provided for them,” said Baisaev, “but only forty went off to vote.” One of the attractions was apparently the opportunity “to cruise past Russian checkpoints in a luxurious Mercedes.”
At an October 8 press conference, the Moscow Helsinki Group reported the election day experiences of its own unofficial monitors. Like many others, they were struck by the deserted streets of Grozny on that day; also like others, they were told by the residents they found that many others had fled the city in fear of terrorist attacks. When they asked who would be left to cast ballots, a typical answer was: “What’s the point of voting? Everything is already clear, the president has already been chosen–only not by us voters.”
As reported by the Russian “Marketing and Consulting” website, www.iamik.ru, the Moscow Helsinki Group monitors told the press conference that they had noted “how the mood of the Chechen electorate changed as election day drew nearer. When they [the monitors] asked people a month before the election…whom they intended to vote for, the answer was that they intended to vote either for one of the three candidates who later were removed from the ballot, or that they did not plan to vote at all. But now [on election day] people simply were afraid to answer that question, and even more to specify just whom they intended to vote for.”
Tatiana Lokshina, executive director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said that all the polling places that she visited were deserted. Lyudmila Alekseeva, the group’s president, had a similar experience. As reported by the Marketing and Consulting website, “When various groups of monitors asked the election officials in various polling places to explain the huge percentage figures of early turnout that they were reporting, the latter answered, ‘You simply came at the wrong time; you should have visited an hour ago, when we were simply being knocked off our feet, but now the voters have left….’ Representatives of the Moscow Helsinki Group visited one village at 10:30, another at 11:30, and so on until the evening–but each time the moment that they chose turned out to be the ‘wrong’ one….In desperation, one of the group stood like a pillar for half an hour at one polling place, counting all the voters who came: a total of five.”
Alekseeva concluded, as reported by Russky kurier on October 10, that “not more than 30 percent of the voters took part in the election.”
All of the group’s monitors reported having observed violations such as the presence of two or even three people at the same time inside one voting booth, or the casting of multiple ballots by one person who had brought with him the passports of other citizens. Lokshina noted, according to Russky kurier, that the blank ballots did not include any indication of how many of them had been printed.
The Helsinki Group also told the press conference, according to Marketing and Consulting, that “most of the polling places were closed earlier than the official closing time. The counting of the ballots from those closed polling places did not take place on site [as required by the election rules]; instead, these ballots were brought in huge sacks to the district commission.” Higher ranking officials received the ballots in a closed room “to which nobody else was admitted…just what they did there is unknowable.”
Strangely, according to Russky kurier the state-controlled ORT television network announced that the Helsinki Group’s president, Alekseeva, had given a “positive evaluation” of the election. Alekseeva told the newspaper that she had not had any interview with ORT.
As expected, observers from the Arab League gave their full endorsement to the election. According to the news agency Novosti, the League’s chief observer, Said al-Barami, said in a meeting with Aleksandr Veshnyakov, head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, that “we are happy with what we saw in Chechnya.” He called the election “legitimate, free and democratic.” Equally warm in his praise was Yury Yarov, executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States. As an official observer of the election he expressed his enthusiasm about the turnout. According to Russky kurier, Yarov observed that “sometimes two or three people went into a voting booth, which on the one hand is a violation of the law, but on the other testifies to the people’s wish to take part in the election.”