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4 Dec, 2009 13:50

Scandalous vote result annulled in North Caucasus

Mayoral election results have been annulled in the city of Derbent, in Russia’s Dagestan, the first such case in the North Caucasus and the first time a vote’s outcome has been cancelled not in favor of the ruling party.

On December 3, the Derbent city court in the Republic of Dagestan nullified the results of the October 11 election, which was marked by a number of scandals and violations.

According to official results, Felix Kaziahkmedov from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party won the mayoral seat for a second term with 67.5 per cent of the vote.

The action against the outcome of the vote was brought by three other candidates for the mayor’s post, including Kaziahkmedov’s main opponent, former prosecutor of the republic Imamali Yaraliev. The court ruling was based on Elkhan Kazimov’s and Salikh Ramazanov’s complaints, whilst the court hearing on Yaraliev’s complain is yet to be held.

It’s most likely that that the court’s decision will be appealed by the opposite side and the case will be brought before the Supreme Court, Yaraliev’s representative told gzt.ru.

“In the lawsuit we filed, we presented proof that the elections were held with serious violations of the law – there was administrative pressure. For no reason, citizens were robbed of their right to vote. In other words, their constitutional right,” Khadir Yusupov is quoted as saying.

According to official data, out of 36 polling stations in Derbent, only 23 opened on the Election Day. Yusupov, however, claims 20 polling places had their doors opened for the voters.

“Moreover, they [the polling stations] repeatedly interrupted their work, explaining it by different reasons, including a bomb threat,” he said. Yusupov also added that there were cases when voters were expelled and said that evidence of that was provided to the court.

So far, the only reaction issued from Russia’s Central Election Commission has been a short statement on its website saying that the Derbent court’s decision can be appealed within 10 days.

Earlier, the CEC Chairman Vladimir Churov said that after the voting in Derbent, eight criminal cases were launched, including alleged bribery of electors by one of the candidates, forged ballots and threats to a chairman of one of local election commissions.

“It was not easy to hold elections there by a long way,” he said in an interview with “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” paper. The situation in Derbent is really complicated because of political infighting among the candidates and a “special economic situation”, he said back in October

Show case?

The Derbent case is, in a way, unique and some are calling it “symbolic”. So far, despite opposition protests and claims of violations, no other October 11 election results have been annulled.

“Court decisions like that are generally pretty rare,” political analyst Aleksandr Kynev is quoted as saying by Kommersant daily. It’s the first time ever in the North Caucasus – “where elections are always held with violations”- that the vote result has been cancelled.

The federal power, he said, intended to show that outrageous violations did not slip through the cracks and that consequences will follow even when United Russia candidates are involved.

Some other observers go even further, saying that the Derbent case is a bad sign for Dagestan President Mukhu Aliyev, since he failed to prove he controls the situation in the republic. Aliyev’s term ends in February 2010 and chances that he will remain the Dagestan’s leader are not that high now.

Earlier, a court in Moscow ordered a ballot recount and the city election committee filed a request to instigate a case against certain wrongdoings. The reason for the recount was a complaint by Sergey Mitrokhin – the leader of the opposition party Yabloko – who discovered that not a single vote had been cast for his party in the Khamovniki District in central Moscow where he and his family voted.

Opposition protests

On October 11, about 7,000 elections for local and municipal legislatures of all levels were held in 76 of 83 constituent parts of the Russian Federation, most of them very small scale though. United Russia’s victory in almost all regions didn’t come as a surprise and the Communist Party came second in most elections, but, as usual, with a huge gap between them.

Three days after the voting day, in protest against the election results, all three opposition parties – The Communists, the Liberal Democrats and Fair Russia – refused to take part in the State Duma session and walked out of the lower house of parliament. They claimed widespread voting irregularities and demanded an urgent meeting with President Medvedev.

Two days later, the Liberal Democrats and the Fair Russia party ended their boycott, whilst the Communists remained defiant, demanding an investigation into alleged vote-rigging.

In order to calm the opposition, Medvedev held a meeting with the three parties’ representatives on October 24 – three days earlier than the meeting was initially scheduled for.

“There are special rules in the Constitution for disputing voting results. This is essential. There can be no electoral system without it,” Dmitry Medvedev said.

Following the meeting, the Russian leader asked the CEC chief to look into the alleged fraud claims.

There have been very few cases in Russia’s modern history when city or regional vote results have been annulled.