Kremlin rejects fraud claims in Saint Petersburg vote

Saint Petersburg, Sept 13 (AFP/APP):The Kremlin on Friday dismissed claims of widespread fraud in local Saint Petersburg polls where the result has still not been announced nearly a week after election day.
Controversy surrounds the vote for city governor that resulted in victory for an unpopular acquaintance of President Vladimir Putin.

The post is equivalent to that of mayor in other cities.

On Sunday, Russia’s second city also elected municipal deputies but five days later authorities have not yet completed the vote count.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that the Kremlin was unaware of “any situations that may somehow cast doubt on the election in Saint Petersburg.”

He dismissed possible irregularities as minor “hiccups” and said the Central Election Commission was looking into them.

Asked if the Kremlin considered the continuing vote count in Putin’s hometown acceptable, Peskov referred questions to election officials.

Opposition figures and observers have repeatedly complained about what they describe as egregious violations including alleged instances of ballot stuffing and vote buying.

They claim that officials have been re-counting votes in precincts won by the opposition in favour of the ruling party United Russia.

“They are stealing the vote from us, they are re-writing protocols,” charged Andrei Pivovarov, a coordinator for the United Democrats, a coalition of independent candidates.

“I don’t know whether you can use the word ‘hiccups’ to describe what is regulated by the Criminal Code,” he told AFP.

“What’s happening now — the falsification of the elections — is a crime.”

Lev Shlosberg, who represents the liberal Yabloko party in a regional assembly in the northwestern city of Pskov, said that those behind vote fraud should face trial.

“The story of the Saint Peterburg municipal elections in 2019 is a story of how mafia seized the city,” he said on Twitter.

Acting governor Alexander Beglov, who is widely derided as unqualified and gaffe-prone, won the Saint Petersburg governorship election in the absence of meaningful opposition.

More than 50 municipal deputies in Russia’s former imperial capital signed a joint statement urging authorities to halt “lawlessness and repression” and prosecute those behind vote irregularities.

“Complete disregard for citizens’ basic constitutional and voting rights leads to senseless street clashes and trumped-up criminal charges,” the statement said.

A protest in the city is planned for next week.

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