x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rivals say Putin's election win is 'an insult to Russians'

League of voters refuses to recognise election victory as legitimate, and claims evidence of 'systematic fraud' in poll.

MOSCOW // Opponents of Vladimir Putin said his election victory was an insult to the Russian people yesterday, as they tried to inject life into protests that risk fading after his return to the Kremlin.

The statement by the protest organisers signalled their determination to press on with demonstrations against the former KGB spy, despite his triumph in Sunday's election and the detention of hundreds of people at rallies on Monday.

But the message from the League of Voters, which unites nationalists, liberals and leftists as well as independent groups, offered little new for demonstrators increasingly demoralised by their inability to change a political system dominated by Mr Putin despite three months of protest.

"Against the backdrop of widespread violations, the league finds it impossible to recognise the results of the 2012 presidential elections in Russia," the league said.

"The elections were not fair because the vote counting and the way the results were compiled were marked by systematic fraud which greatly distorted the result of how voters expressed their will."

The Central Election Commission has said there were no major voting irregularities in the election and Mr Putin, returning to the presidency after four years as prime minister, said he won a clean victory.

Mr Putin, who was president for eight years from 2000-2008, has won a new six-year term and could rule as long as the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, whose 18 years in power have been called the "years of stagnation".

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, swiftly dismissed the opposition criticism and indicated it would not be taken into account. "All assessments have been made. The matter is closed," he told Interfax news agency.

Official results showed Mr Putin won more than 63 per cent of votes in the election, but independent international monitors said the poll was skewed to favour the prime minister.

The United States and the European Union have called for all reports of voting irregularities to be investigated but also underlined the need to keep cooperating with Russia.

The League of Voters, which was born from protests that were sparked by allegations of fraud in a parliamentary poll on December 4 won by Mr Putin's party, said that "civil society in Russia was insulted" by Sunday's election results.

"The Russian presidency as an institution, the Russian electoral system and the state authorities in Russia as a whole were discredited," it said in the statement.

Citing handwritten vote tallies collected by its observers, the group said results from 33 polling stations in Russia's second city of St Petersburg had been falsified to give Mr Putin an extra 15 percentage points after voting ended.

"You can imagine what the situation was like at polling stations which were impossible to monitor," said Georgy Vasilyev, a film producer and member of the League of Voters.

Police detained hundreds of people who attended unsanctioned rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg on Monday and protesters who refused to leave after a Moscow rally that had been permitted.

The police said they had acted in accordance with the law and Mr Peskov defended the intervention.

But some opposition leaders have said they fear Mr Putin has decided to use force to smother their protests. The next test of their staying power will be on Saturday when they plan to protest in Moscow.

"We must make this protest different ... It must be dedicated to the surge of material on violations that are flooding in from all sides," said journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, a protest organiser.

But he acknowledged it would be hard to maintain the momentum of protests as indignation over vote fraud dissipates.

"People are tired now," he said. "People are taking this to heart psychologically and personally so of course we will see a period of 'drop-off' from primary, basic, brutal activism."