RFE/RL – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (Author)
Budget-sector workers in Russia were pictured flocking to polling stations across the country as voting in nationwide legislative elections began.
Long lines of military personnel were reported in Moscow early on the first day of the September 17-19 vote, amid reports that state workers had been told to cast their ballots by noon in an effort to ensure high turnout.
"This is necessary to ensure mobilization -- there will be more time to mobilize those who did not show up in the first wave on Friday morning," the online news outlet Meduza, which was listed as "foreign agent media" by the Justice Ministry last month, quoted a source close to the Russian presidential administration as saying.
Video on social media showed a lengthy line of voters that spilled onto the street of Bolshoi Afanasyevsky Lane in Moscow. The Readovka news outlet, which published the clip on its Telegram channel, suggested that the enormous line in the capital's Arbat district was not in keeping with the area's low number of registered voters.
Ekho Moskvy radio, which also published the video, reported that some of those waiting to vote said they had come voluntarily and were "local residents." Uniformed military and police officers were among those waiting in line, and a voter told an Ekho Moskvy correspondent that he was from "an organization with green uniforms,” which the reporter took to mean the military.
While Russia extended the September 19 election by two days purportedly in order to lessen the risk of coronavirus exposure, voters were tightly bunched together, and the vast majority were not wearing masks.
Readovka, whose website was banned by the Russian authorities in late August 2020, reported that members of the "National Guard, Emergency Situations Ministry, the military, state employees, etc., were being driven en masse to vote," and published video of military members marching to polling station No. 2577 in western Moscow's Krylatsky district after having been driven there to take part in the vote, which Readovka said was a violation of electoral laws.
The news outlet also reported that the head of the polling station had told its correspondent that he was not allowed to film the voting process and that the polling station's video cameras, part of a purported effort by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to provide transparency, had been turned off.
In the eastern Siberian region of Buryatia, the Free People Telegram channel published a collage of images -- including one showing army officers lined up in rows -- above a caption stating that local officials "rounded up military, police, and state employees of all stripes."
Observers from the Omsk Civic Association, meanwhile, reported that several hundred police officers and employees of the Emergency Situations Ministry had been bused to "a number of polling stations" in the Siberian city's Kirov district.
The organization's Twitter feed also showed "at least 50" National Guard soldiers lined up to vote at polling station No. 264, located in the district where current city Mayor Oskana Fadina is running for a State Duma seat.
The Siberia.Realities desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service, meanwhile, reported on its elections Live Blog that military conscripts were being bused to Omsk polling stations.
'Ordered To Vote'
Communist Party candidate Vasily Shipilov, a State Duma candidate from Tomsk, said state employees in the Siberian city had complained that they had been directed to vote at polling stations where they were not eligible to vote. Shipilov reportedly sent a copy of the directive to the CEC.
In Yekaterinburg, the banned Readovka reported on its Telegram channel that more than 100 employees of a nationwide supermarket chain whose owner is a reputed supporter of the government been ordered to go to polling station No. 1480 to vote, even if was not their official voting district.
In Moscow, the outlet reported, one woman who had failed to register for online voting at her workplace was ordered to instead show up to vote for the capital's Leningrad district single-mandate constituency, one of 15 single-mandate seats in Moscow.
Critics say the CEC's e-voting initiative is being forced on state workers as a possible way to skew the vote in favor of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which is experiencing all-time lows in popularity.
A recent survey by the state-run VTsIOM pollster put a positive spin on employees of industrial enterprises possibly being coerced to participate in the elections, which will determine all 450 seats in the State Duma, as well as a handful of gubernatorial and mayoral races and more than three dozen regional legislatures.
VTsIOM reported on September 8 that the "overwhelming majority" of such employees had not been pushed to vote, a figure that the English-language The Moscow Times read as an indication that "14 percent of all employers working at industrial plants in Russia had been confronted with forced voting for the upcoming elections."
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