MOSCOW (Reuters) - Former world chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov accused Russian authorities of “raping the whole electoral system” with numerous instances of irregularities in Sunday’s parliamentary election.
Speaking to a crowd of mostly foreign reporters after casting a protest vote, Kasparov said the opposition had evidence of ballot-stuffing and of threats to hospital patients and state workers unless they voted for pro-Kremlin parties.
President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party is widely expected to win a huge majority in Sunday’s elections for a new State Duma (lower house of parliament).
Pro-Western parties, marginalized after an eight-year oil boom which has created a host of billionaires and a growing middle class, are not expected to win any seats.
“They are not just rigging the vote, they are raping the whole electoral system,” Kasparov said. “These elections are a reminder of Soviet elections when there was no choice.”
Later at a book signing, he predicted Kremlin authoritarianism would cause a “deepening crisis” in Russia, ending in an “economic collapse no less serious than what we saw in 1991 (when the Soviet Union collapsed)”.
“Putin is going to have a hard time trying to rule like Stalin and live like Abramovich,” Kasparov said, referring to London-based oil magnate Roman Abramovich, estimated by Forbes to be Russia’s richest man with $18 billion.
The opposition has repeatedly complained that numerous changes to electoral rules, government dominance of the media and heavy use of state resources to promote United Russia have made the campaign one-sided.
Authorities had removed the option on ballot papers this time to vote against all candidates, but Kasparov said he had made a personal protest by ticking all the boxes on the ballot paper, spoiling his vote.
He also said authorities at polling station number 181 in central Moscow where he voted had removed sheltered voting booths, forcing voters to cast ballots in full view of others.
Kasparov, who spoke partly in English in the freezing cold for the benefit of foreign television crews, called on his supporters to place flowers outside Russia’s Central Electoral Commission to mark the “funeral of the Russian constitution”.
Patients in state-run hospitals had been told treatment would be withdrawn unless they voted for United Russia and state workers had been threatened with the sack unless they obeyed order to back the Kremlin party, Kasparov added.
He did not give specific examples but said the Russian section of the internet blogging site livejournal.com was full of reported examples of electoral fraud.
Amnesty International has accused Russia of “systematic disregard for basic human rights” in the run-up to Sunday’s vote. It has cited interference with the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
Kasparov and his Other Russia dissident movement are not standing in Sunday’s parliamentary election because they could not get registered as a party. They enjoy little public support among Russians but have a big following in the West.
The former world chess champion spent most of the week in jail after being arrested at a protest rally in Moscow last weekend. The United States condemned his arrest and chided President Vladimir Putin’s government for stifling dissent.
Writing by Michael Stott; Editing by Michael Winfrey