Russia's new election chief stakes career on upcoming vote

AP News
Posted: Sep 15, 2016 10:09 AM
Russia's new election chief stakes career on upcoming vote

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's new election chief, whose notorious predecessor oversaw massive election fraud, on Thursday pledged to resign if there are widespread voting violations in the upcoming parliamentary vote.

Vote-rigging in the 2011 parliamentary elections under Central Election Commission chairman Vladimir Churov spilled into the biggest anti-government protests in a decade. Churov insisted there was nothing wrong with a vote in which hundreds of election observers reported and uploaded videos of brazen ballot-staffing and multiple voting across the country.

"I'm confident that (the elections) will be better than before because I know what we have done in the regions. If I fail in this election, of course I will resign," said Ella Pamfilova.

Pamfilova, a well-known human rights activist who was appointed to the job five months ago, told reporters on Thursday that she was given a difficult legacy to deal with.

"Those transgressions of the previous elections which sparked mass protests and created a high degree of distrust, it's hard to overcome this distrust," she said. "If (people) have no trust, they will take to the streets." She grew emotional during the course of the press briefing, and left in tears at the end.

Even if the ballot count on the day is fair, it will not change the fact that candidates from the ruling United Russia enjoy the backing of local officials who help them with campaigning in various ways, from giving them venues to canvass to coercing state employees to vote for the party.

Pamfilova said her team has worked hard in the run-up to the vote to ward off potential violations, including telling local governors not to rig the vote to give United Russia a higher vote.

"I tell them 99 percent is not vogue anymore," she said.

Pamfilova conceded that there are at least 15 "problem regions" in Russia where risk of fraud is high and where President Vladimir Putin and the ruling party typically get over 90 percent of the vote.

Civic groups met Pamfilova's appointment in March with cautious optimism, but were skeptical that she would be allowed to overhaul the system, which is tailored to serve the interests of the ruling party.

Unlike her predecessor who dismissed election observers as Western spies, Pamfilova says she's working closely with monitors, including the Golos group which has been blacklisted as a foreign agent.