An election annulment in Russia’s Far East has been called for by the country’s senior election official due to vote rigging and fraud.
Russian gubernatorial candidate Andrei Ishchenko, of the Communist Party, threatened to go on a hunger strike in protest of election authorities of rigging the results in Sunday’s runoff vote for governor of the Primorye region.
With 95% of the ballots counted, Ishchenko had a 5% lead over the candidate from a pro-Kremlin party. However, a few hours later election officials reported that after all the votes were counted, the Kremlin-backed incumbent Andrei Tarasenko had won.
On Monday, the election commission said Tarasenko had won by just over 1 percentage point, with results showing he had received almost every one of the almost 20,000 final votes counted, an unlikely turnaround that the Communists called evidence of rigging.
The Interfax news agency reported that Ella Pamilova, head of the Central Election Commission, said new elections should take place in three months if the results of the initial votes were overturned.
In a surprising turn, the Kremlin has supported Pamfilova’s recommendation for a re-vote according to spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Peskov said that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s priority has always been to have clean and fair elections.
'30,000 votes were stolen'
Candidate Andrei Ishchenko spoke Monday to a crowd of almost a thousand in the Pacific port of Vladivostok, 6,400 km east of Moscow, claiming the vote count had been rigged, and urged supporters to protest every evening until the result was overturned.
"At least 30,000 votes were stolen from us," he told the crowd, saying the results had been rewritten overnight.
“We shouldn’t stand for it. We have gathered here today to show the authorities that we are the power here, that we decide what happens,” said Ishchencko.
President Vladimir Putin met the incumbent, Tarasenko, ahead of the runoff and told him, according to reports of the transcript on the Kremlin website, that "everything is going to be fine".
The comment was widely seen as a personal endorsement of Tarasenko, whom Putin appointed acting governor last year.
The upheaval in Vladivostok comes less than a week after Putin hosted the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea there at a major economic conference.
Putin's own popularity is down to its lowest level in more than four years, after proposing to raise the retirement age to 65 from 60 for men and to 63 from 55 for women. Russia ranks 110th in the world in overall life expectancy with women living on average to 76.3, while men live on average to just 64.7.
Putin enjoyed a comfortable presidential election victory on 18 March of this year, when he received over 56 million votes.
Pavel Grudinin, of the same Communist Party who is now protesting the Far East election run-off, only received 11.77% of the total votes in the March election in which President Putin took 76.69% of the electorate.