Activists demand Russian elections boss resigns over recent municipal poll scandal

Activists demand Russian elections boss resigns over recent municipal poll scandal
A veteran Russian HR group has demanded the dismissal of the country’s top election official after he accused some independent election monitors of deliberately causing disorder and planning to thwart the 2016 State Duma poll.

We call upon all political parties who have their representatives in the Central Elections Commission to raise the question of the immediate resignation of the head of this body, Vladimir Churov, and the chairman of the Moscow Region Elections Commission, Irek Vildanov,” reads the address published by the Moscow Helsinki Group on Wednesday. The document was also signed by heads and representatives of several other major Russian rights groups.

The reaction of one of Russia’s oldest Human Rights organizations (Moscow Helsinki Group was founded in 1976) came after Vladimir Churov made harsh accusations of several political groups who drew public attention to the scandal that took place in late April at municipal elections in Balashikha, a suburban town in the Moscow region.

At the time, several monitors who represented the opposition movement Solidarity and the elections monitoring association Golos were attacked by unidentified people after they drew public attention to alleged violations during the polls. The groups complained to the authorities and press, but the head of the regional elections commission Irek Vildanov refused to take action and accused the monitors of deliberately provoking a scandal.

There are neo-Nazis behind all these threats, our homegrown fascists. In my opinion at these elections we saw the actions of well-prepared Nazi forces that act with foreign help and that, are actually standing behind our liberal politicians. These monitors were trained very well in Polish camps,” Vildanov told reporters after the April scandal. “They have excellent and expensive recording hardware – ordinary monitors simply cannot afford such devices – that can film even at night,” he added.

Until recently the Golos association received most of its funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and actively resisted the Russian law requirements to register as a foreign agent. The Solidarity group is a loose organization that never discloses the sources of its funds, but according to media reports it also worked with USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy NGO.

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Russian elections boss Vladimir Churov supported his colleague. In a radio interview he said that the developments in Balashikha made him think the activists wanted to learn and test ways to disrupt elections. “This scandal could have been prepared in advance as part of the program to thwart the [all-Russian parliamentary] elections in 2016,” Churov told the Russian News Service radio.

The Moscow Helsinki Group says this comment amounted to slander. They went on to call the remarks on foreign funding of the monitor groups “a paranoid picture of grand world conspiracy and a network of foreign agents.”

Churov replied to the address with an ironic comment on Wednesday: “I am very happy with them, I thought everyone has already forgotten about me,” he said.

Vladimir Churov has been a favorite target of the Russian opposition since becoming head of the Central Elections Commission in 2007. Opposition politicians, mass media and bloggers accused him of bucking the reports of violations and rigging the vote in favor of the authorities. They also called him “a wizard” and “a tale-teller,” making fun of his long beard.