Russia’s Central Election Commission is urging regional election officials in the Primorsky Krai to invalidate the results of last Sunday’s runoff gubernatorial election. Commissioner Ella Pamfilova justified the recommendation on the grounds that it is impossible to determine the race’s outcome reliably because of significant violations at multiple polling stations. In fact, the commission's “recommendation” is more like a direct order, given that federal officials also say they will invalidate Primorye's results themselves, if regional officials refuse to do so. Officials in Primorye have promised to reach a decision by Thursday, September 20.
Federal election officials have singled out 13 polling stations where significant irregularities occurred on September 16. According to Pamfilova, emergency workers temporarily restricted access to entire precincts, making it impossible to determine “the authenticity of the stated will of the citizenry.” More than 24,000 voters were registered at these stations, and United Russia candidate Andrey Tarasenko defeated Communist Party challenger Andrey Ishchenko by just 7,000 votes, meaning that these ballots could have decided the election’s outcome, Pamfilova said. The commissioner did not, however, explain why officials can’t simply invalidate the results at these precincts and recognize the results from all other polling stations.
Some in Moscow hold Primorye’s election officials responsible for the gubernatorial fiasco. Central Election Commission member Boris Ebzeev told the news agency Interfax that he has doubts about the “competency” of election officials in Primorye. "We're talking about systematic, well planned violations that led to the result that you and I are seeing," Ebzeev explained. Pamfilova, meanwhile, says she doesn’t endorse this assessment, and has thanked Primorye’s regional commission for its prompt cooperation with her agency in Moscow.
The Central Election Commission promises to provide police with information about violations at polling stations. “We hope that law enforcement agencies will find out who called in about smoke and who was behind this,” Pamfilova said. Nikolai Bulaev, the commissioner’s deputy, also urged Tarasenko and Ishchenko to withdraw their police reports against the voting precinct chairpersons, arguing that “these people aren’t guilty of anything.” “You don’t have the courage or the guts to fight against the authorities, so you’re fighting women who will lose their careers and have nothing to feed their families, if they open criminal cases,” he said.
Tarasenko supports the invalidation of the election results, but Ishchenko objects. The acting governor says he won’t be able to “look his constituents in the eye,” if his victory lacks legitimacy, and he advocates “doing everything necessary to remove any doubts.” Ishchenko, on the other hand, calls the Central Election Commission’s decision “completely absurd.” “The law states that [violations must be recorded at] a minimum of 25 percent of voting precincts, in order to invalidate an entire election. No, I don’t agree with this. We elected a governor,” the Communist candidate argued.
New elections could take place three months from now. It’s still unclear if Tarasenko and Ishchenko will run again, if new elections are called. Tarasenko told the news agency TASS that he wouldn’t run again, but minutes later he promised a group of supporters in Vladivostok that he would in fact participate in a third round of elections. Ishchenko, meanwhile, says the Communist Party’s Central Committee will decide if he runs again.
It’s been ages since Russia invalidated gubernatorial election results. This happened a few times in the 1990s, but the last occurrence was in 2002, when Krasnoyarsk election officials twice overturned Alexander Khloponin’s victory due to voting violations. (A court invalided the first election, and the Central Election Commission invalidated the second election.)