The new head of the Russian Central Election Commission, Ella Pamfilova, said she will involve the security services and the military in fighting election fraud in the upcoming Duma elections, set to take place in September.
Appointed in March this year, Pamfilova replaced Vladimir Churov, the man whose reputation for rigging elections has become legendary among Russians. After the Duma elections of 2011, when a state TV Channel ran a story on the results in the Rostov region where the votes for all parties totaled up to 146.47 percent, a special term for the election processes in Russia appeared: churovshina—a noun that both harkens to Churov’s name and to his magical abilities.
Before coming to the Central Election Commission, Pamfilova had been the Human Rights Ombudsman in Russia for two years. Western readers may recognize her name as someone who appeared to stand up to Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov, after he accused all “non-systemic” opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin of treason earlier this year. But her full record betrays the fact that she has done little more than provide the flimsiest of cover for the Putin regime. On her watch, her office all but stopped appealing to the Constitutional Court over human rights violations, and significantly reduced the number of pleas filed with the Supreme Court. And it’s important to remember that she was completely silent when Kadyrov made a similar set of accusations and threats against Russia’s opposition last year, in the immediate aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, singling out several people including Alexei Venediktov and Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was killed by Chechen gunmen just outside the Kremlin a few short weeks after Kadyrov’s outbursts.
Nevertheless her appointment to the Central Election Commission was supposed to be seen as Vladimir Putin’s attempt to legitimate the upcoming elections in the eyes of the wider public.
The elections haven’t even started in earnest, and yet a scandal has already emerged under Pamfilova: Opposition candidates have withdrawn in protest from municipal elections in the tony Barvikha township just outside Moscow, claiming massive violations in early voting.
Explaining the need of siloviki involvement in the September elections, Pamfilova said a special task force, comprising public prosecutors, Interior Ministry troops and Investigative Committee personnel, will be used to fight any election rigging. “It will be standard practice to immediately deploy people to regions where signs of major violations are detected. […] There will be no untouchable people for us,” Pamfilova said.
At the same time, the Duma recently passed several laws that significantly restricted journalists’ and observers’ work at the polling stations. The laws were passed right after an observer who witnessed ballot-stuffing during the Moscow region’s local elections was severely beaten last year. The police guarding the polling station reportedly did nothing to protect the victim. The incident was captured on video, becoming just the latest in a long line of outrageous clips documenting electoral fraud since all the polls in Russia were equipped with web-cameras. This, for example, is how Dagestan voted for President in 2012:
The Central Election Commission, being a properly integrated vertical bureaucracy, could simply tell the regional and local election commissions to put an end to this kind of amply-documented fraud. Or, if for some reason it could not do that, it might just involve more observers and media outlets to shine a light on what’s going on, and then investigate.
But the Putin regime has gone out of its way to not address the problem using the obvious means. Instead, it has called in the siloviki. It remains an open question as to whom Pamfilova’s special forces will actually be fighting in the September elections…