Communists face rare crackdown in Russia, upending old balance

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Source: Christian Science Monitor

Boris Kagarlitsky, a veteran left-wing dissident, holds the distinction of having been a political prisoner under the regimes of Leonid Brezhnev and Boris Yeltsin. Now he can add President Vladimir Putin to that list. He’s just been released after a 10-day stint in a Moscow detention center for posting a link to a Communist Party statement alleging electoral fraud during last month’s parliamentary elections.

Mr. Kagarlitsky had been in Siberia working as a political strategist for a prominent Communist candidate for the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. He returned to the capital to find that the pro-Kremlin United Russia (UR) party had swept all the city’s constituencies. That was in defiance of exit polls and votes counted at polling stations, after tens of thousands of unverifiable “electronic votes” appeared and decisively reversed results.

A veritable encyclopedia on the subject of Russian electoral dirty tricks, Mr. Kagarlitsky says he has never seen fraud at this level. “What happened in Moscow was simply theft on a grand scale,” he says. “It testifies to how terrified Russian authorities are, even of the permitted electoral system that they created, that they would do this.”

The independent election watchdog Golos estimates that at least 78,000 fraudulent ballots were filed through the new system of electronic voting in Moscow, denying the Communist Party (KPRF) several wins. Now the party, which has long been tolerated by the Kremlin as a voice of opposition, is fighting back.

While some rank-and-file members want them to push harder if they ever want to make political headway, their nascent protesting has resulted in a decisive wave of official repression. The backlash is unprecedented in post-Soviet experience and threatens to upend two decades of Putin-era political stability.

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