Authorities should give full access to webcam videos to investigate election fraud
A Just Russia party candidate in the 4 March 2012 mayor elections in Astrakhan, Oleg Shein, ended his 40 days hunger strike on 24 April after receiving access to webcam videos from polling stations in Astrakhan. Shein and his supporters had filed a law suit claiming that massive fraud had taken place during the elections. – The Central Election Commission should give full access to videos in order to help investigation of all substantiated cases of fraud, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General.
– Russian authorities installed webcams in more than 90 000 polling stations during the 4 March 2012 Presidential and local elections; presenting it as a major safeguard against fraud. However, authorities did not give complete access to webcam videos or accept them as means of proof in court, says Ekeløve-Slydal. Shein’s struggle to get access to webcam videos was important for several reasons. It was non-violent, gaining massive support from pro-democracy campaigners and receiving wide media attention. In the end it resulted in a breakthrough for the right to access webcam videos.
Mr. Shein and three of his supporters started to strike on 16 March 2012, claiming that massive irregularities had taken place during the mayor elections in Astrakhan and demanding access to webcam videos of the elections. According to official figures, Mr. Shein received only about 30 % of the vote, while Mikhail Stolyarov, the United Russia candidate, received 60 %. The official result was, however, immediately contested by the opposition based on polls giving different results and claims of widespread irregularities.
On a press conference in Astrakhan on 15 April, Shein and his supporters substantiated some of their claims by presenting a few webcam videos they had been given access to. One video showed how the head of a polling station was counting ballot papers alone, without showing others the votes. After recounting these ballot papers, it became clear that pro-Shein votes were put together with pro-Stolyarov votes. However, in order to present his case forcefully in court, Shein said he needed access to more videos.
On 16 April, the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, finally agreed to review some of the videos together with Mr. Shein. Churov confirmed that there were “procedural” violations in many polling stations. However, the Central Election Commission underlined in a statement, “thanks to a full, uninterrupted video record everyone can make sure that procedural violations, committed at a number of polling stations in Astrakhan could not affect the results of the vote”.
In ending their hunger strike, Oleg Shein and his supporters announced that their goal had been achieved. Their continued battle against election fraud will now take place in an Astrakhan court that has accepted to hear their complaint.