- The Washington Times - Friday, September 22, 2000

There are three major attributes which characterize most Third World countries. (1) They keep afloat only by

selling their raw materials, if any, overseas.

(2) Their governing elites live high on the hog, while their people are poor and hungry.

(3) Elections, if any, are usually fraudulent.

Russia, which since the Kursk submarine disaster is being called by some critics as "Upper Volta with rockets," fits this pattern to a T. According to David Satter, a longtime observer of that tragic land, almost 40 percent of the people now are living in poverty, its GDP since 1992 has been halved and it lives by selling oil, gas and precious metals so it can import consumer goods.

As for its elections, of course there weren't any in Russia in a thousand years of czardom and Bolshevism. Since the breakup of the Soviet empire in 1990 six national elections have been held three for president and three for the national legislature, the Duma.

It is the last presidential election on March 26 that the Moscow Times, a sturdily independent English language daily, has just described as corrupt. The paper is owned by a Dutch company and some Russian corporations. Last week it published a documented expose of election frauds. Spread over eight pages, the expose was based on firsthand reports by staff members, headed by Evgenia Borisova, who investigated 12 regions all over the country. Over a six-month period, they interviewed voters and officials in a position to know what happened during and after the presidential election.

The Moscow Times expose cited rewriting of returns in Dagestan which, it says, gave Mr. Putin 551,000 extra votes; stuffing of ballot-boxes in Tatarstan, free vodka to Putin voters, rewriting election results in Bashkortostan where Mr. Putin's communist opponent, Gennady Zyuganov, was ahead. Other fraudulent practices included listing children as adults, listing people twice or adding names at random. In some cases, the Moscow Times revealed, "corrupt election officials have added fictional floors to apartment buildings, and filled the resulting fictional apartments with fictional voters who, as one, cast their ballots for Putin." Not even Tammany Hall was that inventive.

Vladimir Putin, the ex-KGB agent and the choice of Boris Yeltsin, the outgoing president, won the March 26 election by a narrow margin of 52.94 percent or 2.2 million votes. The most startling statistic to emerge out of the Moscow Times investigation is that in the three months between the Dec. 19, 1999, Duma elections and the March 26 presidential elections, the official number of registered voters grew by an astonishing 1.3 million voters and, adds the Moscow Times, "There is no good explanation as to why." The report continues:

"The inescapable conclusion is that Putin would not have won outright on March 26 without cheating. At the same time… . the conventional wisdom of the time was correct: Putin was far and away the most popular candidate for president in the spring and summer of 2000. Had he won less than 50 percent of the March 26 vote he most likely would have faced and easily defeated communist leader Zyuganov in a runoff."

What is troubling about the elections was that under Russian law, foreign organizations are given broad powers to observe voting day procedures and where possible to prevent frauds. But observers cannot be everywhere, especially when there are 95,000 polling stations. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had a team of 400 observers at the presidential elections, only about 40 of whom had any knowledge of Russia or the language itself. The OSCE post-election report conceded there were manifold irregularities but these would not have altered the final outcome.

The Moscow Times candidly said, "Not one person of those interviewed over the six months since the election could offer compelling evidence that fraud was part of a national conspiracy organized on direct orders from anyone in the Kremlin." However, there is "abundant evidence" that in some of Russia's 89 regions "orders to falsify the vote came down directly and formally from the governors' offices," the majority of whom had publicly embraced Mr. Putin's Unity Party.

The London Times said the expose of "vote-buying, ballot-stuffing, and brazen doctoring of figures" was convincing enough as to cast doubt on Mr. Putin's "legitimacy" as Russia's president.

Stanford Professor Larry Diamond has coined the phrase "pseudo-democracy" for countries like Azerbaijan run by an old KGB functionary, Gaidar Aliyev. His second category is the "electoral democracy" like Russia under Mr. Yeltsin. Mr. Putin's Russia is a back-sliding pseudo-democracy and if the last presidential election is any guide for the future, it is en route to becoming an authoritarian regime.

(The original Moscow Times articles can be found at the Website www.themoscowtimes.com.)

Arnold Beichman, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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