Opposition candidate wins mayoral election in Yaroslavl
2.04.12 20:02 By Ekaterina Vinokurova, edited by Semyon Kvasha
Yevgeny Urlashov, Yaroslavl mayor-elect Photo: itar-tass
Yevgeny Urlashov won a very competitive mayoral election in the large Russian city of Yaroslavl. Supported by the opposition, he became the mayor after winning against the candidate supported by United Russia and current city authorities. Gazeta.ru correspondent went to Yaroslavl along with thousands of journalists and independent observers to find out how the opposition fought intimidation and election fraud.
The day before
On Saturday, the day before the battle, several hundred people listen to a lecture at the Blind Men House of Culture.
"You have a right to shoot photo and video. You mustn't film personal data and infringe the secrecy of the vote, you are only to observe and note the fraud," Golos election watchdog train the observers.
In the hallway there is a small crowd of journalists from Moscow and other cities, but not the locals. They watch the street outside, there are several dozen young men in sport suits.
Yaroslavl observers are not surprised by this muscle. They say there's a war to the bitter end, and they are very calm about the crowd of thugs: "they try to scare us, it happens. It's good they don't shoot".
Golos ends the training, the observers walk away without accident, and the association representatives say the situation is unique: the control over the election is total, volunteer observers from all over Russia work at 100% poll stations.
Ballot Stuffing attempt
On Sunday, election day, the police are literally at every corner. "There are many bought voters," observers say. Here, see, they carry ticket stubs, try to understand where to receive money for voting for Yakushev.
They show a blue ticket with voter's name and phone number: this is the lower part of the contract which, on Urlashev's staff information, pro-governor candidate's agitators signed with voters. This contract offered voters to get paid for agitation services, which actually meant voting for a certain candidate. Yakushev's staff reportedly paid 200 rubles for signing and promised another 300
The system of voter corruption had some errors, there were many unhappy voters.
At poll station №170, in one of the poorer districts, our Gazeta.ru writer witnessed the following: A voter with a ticket stub mistakenly addressed Urlashev's observers, asking them, where she can receive money. The observers confiscated the stub and called the police, the voter was very upset.
"They swindled me again! How can I believe people? The authorities lie as well as the opposition," she complained to a Gazeta.ru correspondent.
A vagrant-looking woman watched this very attentively. She took the upset voter by the hand and led her into the alleys. Gazeta.ru writers followed the strange pair, and came to the local branch of United Russia, where the very same thuggish young men stood gard and filmed everyone who came into the building.
An official protocol of voting in the presidential election lay in a puddle nearby, lacking the necessary stamp. According to Golos association, the data in this protocol differed from the official one. On the other side of the document there was information on bonuses and commentary: "No more than 150%".
Although formally, candidate Yakushev had no relation to United Russia, we found a draft of candidate's agitation contract and his agitation newspapers.
Meanwhile there was an attempt at direct ballot-stuffing at the very same poll station, №170.
"We knew it was stuffing because of the sound of ballots knocking at the bottom of the box," the observer Sasha from Tver said agitatedly. "That's it, the pack of ballots!" Indeed, we could clearly see through the semi-transparent box several ballots folded together.
Observers caught another girl trying to staf the ballots on the same poll station. Police let her go immediately. The scandal grew and in half an hour candidate Urlashev came to the station followed by journalists from Russia's and the world media.
"What is happening here?"- he asked? "Do you understand you shame the Yaroslavl land before all the world? The chairman of the election commission is coming!"
The chairman really came, a nice grey-haired man. But he refused to open the suspicious ballot-box.
The place where the exit-pollers, working for Yakushev, bring the ticket stubs for the voting contracts, is in the far suburb of Yaroslavl, in a spa-salon.
There's a nice-looking girl on a reception desk, she gladly gives us the services price list. Spa is on her left. On her right – a closed door where the brutish young men – the brigadiers – go constantly. To of them sit with a laptop right in front of the reception desk.
Gazeta.ru writer sat near him and noticed the lists with people's names, phone numbers and districts. To photograph the list unnoticed was impossible. "You don't need to photograph," – said the strong young man in front of a laptop menacingly.
When the Gazeta.ru correspondents tried to leave the building, they met a sudden opposition. "Remove the photos" – demanded a sporty blond who obstructed the exit. The other journalists helped to create a marginal superiority, then the election watchdogs "Citizen Observer" and "Solidernost" came. Brutish young men disappeared behind the closed door, and the blond started filming.
After 15 minutes riot police came, summoned by Spa owner, who complained on provocateurs who impede the salon's work.
The owner and the activists started to complain to riot policemen on each other. "Let's wait for Yakushev representative's call,"- one of the policemen said to another.
In the end the police detained Solidarnost activists and released them later.
In the evening, according to Yakushev's exit-polls it was clear the governorial candidate loses.
Yakushev's staff, led by Moscow spin doctors, was in the hotel "Medvezhy Ugol"
The attempt to infiltrate the hotel was unsuccessful. The correspondents ordered coffee in a lobby bar, a minute later another sporty young man with short hair appeared at the table nearby, and in ten minutes he asked us to leave:
"We don't need the fuss you created, we don't need journalists here. Your colleagues smashed up Yakushev's staff in spa-center. Get out!"
At the door of the hotel the journalists met the chief of Yakushev's staff Andrei Ischenko, who, seeing us, turned around and entered the hotel through the back door.
The united opposition victory
At the same time first information started to flow from election commission. Urlashov won indisputedly.
The celebration started after the first reports from the city election commission.
Champaign corks were shot, the mayor-elect drank juice: "I'll have to talk to your gang tomorrow," – he said to Gazeta.ru writer.
The communists told Gazeta.ru correspondent that the strategy of united opposition should be continued. "We need to find a good candidate. It's important to undersand, all the protester voters were for Urlashov, all were united,"- said Duma deputy Oleg Lebedev. "We need to work out a joint solution for governorial election".
In the end Yevgeny Urlasov received almost 70% votes, government-approved Yakov Yakushev – almost 28%.
Voters in Yaroslavl will rue their decision, said State Duma vice-speaker, United Russia's secretary of general council Sergei Neverov. "We had a similar situation in Samara, where our candidate lost to his opponent. Soon the people who vote on election understand what it is to vote for an unprepared candidate."
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