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Russia's Historic Vote

Candidates, Observers Agree Election Was Fair

Balloting: All sides are satisfied with the process despite pre-vote fears that results would be rigged.


MOSCOW — In an important sign that democracy is taking root in Russia, Sunday's presidential election appears to have been conducted without any significant incidents of fraud, officials said Monday--despite widespread suspicions that the voting would be rigged.

In a preliminary analysis of 99% of the ballots, the Russian Central Election Commission found no major violations of election rules, according to Valentina Y. Shebunova, a senior commission official.

"The way these elections were held testifies to the fact that our people have already developed a considerable level of political consciousness," Shebunova said. "This, in combination with the presence of international observers and volunteers watching the voting process for the candidates, ensured real free and fair elections--maybe for the first time ever."

Even Communist candidate Gennady A. Zyuganov, whose party had monitors stationed at most polling places around the country, agreed.

"We believe that overall the elections were conducted satisfactorily--without any blatant violations of the law," Zyuganov, who came in a close second behind Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin, said at a news conference Monday.

Before the polling, Communists accused Yeltsin's team of planning massive falsification of returns. Similarly, Yeltsin supporters accused the Communists--with their vast network of local activists--of cheating in December's parliamentary elections and of planning to do the same in the presidential poll.


Given the accusations--and widespread allegations of irregularities in a 1993 constitutional referendum--voters had appeared highly skeptical of a fraud-free result. A nationwide public opinion poll taken shortly before the election showed that only 30% of the voters believed the election would be fair, while 25% said it would be unfair and the rest were unsure.

Both Communist and pro-reform election observers reported only minor incidents of violations.

Viktor Ilyukhin, a Zyuganov supporter in the Russian Duma, the lower house of parliament, said that at some voting stations Yeltsin supporters tried to put packets of ballots marked for Yeltsin into voting boxes.

Young people monitoring polls in the Tver region northwest of Moscow, under the auspices of the government's Our Home Is Russia party, said election officials permitted residents to vote in place of relatives or neighbors who could not come to the polls.

And in the village of Shebekino in the Belgorod region southwest of Moscow, the young monitors reported that local election officials openly campaigned for Zyuganov and tried to prevent them from watching the vote counting.

Foreign observers and diplomats praised Sunday's election and said it showed that Russia's new democratic system is maturing.

"Democracy is developing deep roots in Russia," U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-chairman of the International Republican Institute, said at a news conference here.

His group, which has analyzed elections in Russia over the last three years and sent monitors to 10 cities Sunday, also found isolated procedural problems--such as ballot boxes that were not monitored properly--but no pattern of widespread problems.


U.S. Ambassador to Russia Thomas R. Pickering said the election process reflected a "deep commitment to fairness" among the electorate and election officials in Russia. "In my view, it was free of violence and free of intimidation and all the other kinds of things one would not want to see in an election," Pickering said.

Pickering scoffed at analysts who before the polling had suggested that 5% to 7% of the vote would be fraudulent; he said it would take a "mind-boggling sense of organization" to tinker with more than 3 million votes.

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