Russia Gleefully Offers Election Tips
"By Yevgenia Borisova
Veshnyakov observed voting in Chicago.
Russians gleefully watched the turmoil over the U.S. presidential election Thursday after a decade of being lectured that the United States is the model of democracy.
Fresh from a trip to Chicago to observe the vote, Central Elections Commission head Alexander Veshnyakov declared that the American system is confusing and undemocratic.
Veshnyakov, who himself came under fire for his handling of Russia’s presidential vote in March, said Washington could learn a lesson from Moscow.
"In Russia, presidential elections are conducted in a more democratic way and are more easily understood by the voters," he told Kommersant.
A Russian presidential hopeful needs to win more than 50 percent of the popular vote or a runoff between the two top candidates to claim victory.
The United States elects a president through the Electoral College and not popular votes.
"This is simply quite stupid," liberal lawmaker and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told Reuters. "The American electoral system needs modernizing."
Even President Vladimir Putin poked fun at the United States, saying, "If necessary he [Veshnyakov] can tell his American colleague how best to act."
But despite disbelief in some circles that the United States could not choose a president within two days, a group of lawmakers said that the chaotic election is far from a sign that Russia has an upper hand in democracy.
"He [Veshnyakov] either does not know what was going on here, or he does not want to know, or someone is not letting him know," Sergei Reshulsky, a State Duma deputy from Dagestan, said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Alexander Saly, head of a State Duma commission examining possible fraud in the March election, agreed, saying Putin himself probably won because of extensive fraud.
"I think what Veshnyakov must do is not to go to America to observe their laws, but to concentrate on fulfillment of the laws here," Saly said. "But here, Alexander Albertovich is talking like a naive guy."
In 14 of Dagestan’s 59 districts alone, Putin may have walked away with 254,000 falsified ballots, Saly said, citing a complaint filed by the Communist Party with the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Putin, who swept into the Kremlin in the first round of voting, took 81 percent of the vote in Dagestan.
A six-month investigation by The Moscow Times found that fraudulent votes accounted for up to 550,000 of the 877,853 ballots cast for Putin in Dagestan.
Dagestan was one of many regions where The Moscow Times documented fraud.
But Saly said he did not think that fraud was playing a role in the outcome of the U.S. vote.
"In the United States, every precinct commission head knows that if any fraud is discovered at his precinct, he will be imprisoned for several years," Saly said. "Here the law means nothing and no one is being punished for committing fraud."
While local media hardly mentioned fraud after Putin’s election, many Russians have wondered whether their government had played above board.
Such doubts were mirrored in a joke about the U.S. vote that was posted on a popular web site Thursday.
"With the outcome uncertain, the Americans have sought technical help from the Russian Central Elections Commission. Veshnyakov has flown to the United States," read the joke on www.anekdote.ru. "Latest reports show Vladimir Putin is in the lead." "