By Kira Youdina | October 2, 2012 - 12:00 GMT
Oleg Shein, a mild-mannered member of the opposition movement, came before Western audiences last week to discuss corruption in Russia. Shein was the Just Russia mayoral candidate in Astrakhan, a major city in the southwest of the country. After March elections brought victory to his opponent, Mikhail Stolyarov of the United Russia Party, Shein staged a protest in the form of a 40-day hunger strike. Supporters of Shein and anti-corruption activists also joined the strike to draw attention to election fraud.
At first glance, Shein is not the type of man who looks like he would pose a threat to corruption in Russia, but as the conversation turned to political rights, Shein’s determination and commitment to the cause was evident. Speaking at the Swiss Press Club in Geneva on Thursday (27 September), Shein explained that he had been visiting Western audiences in order to raise support and awareness of the falsified elections of 4 March. Although the victim himself of a fraudulent electoral process, Shein indicated that his focus was not on his own election, but on saving the city of Astrakhan from mafia-like government.
Illustrating the scale of the problem in Astrakhan, Shein accused the city government of deliberate destruction of property for monetary gain: “in the past seven years, 70 houses were burned in the city, which is an old and historical city. Thirty-five people died in the process. The houses were burned down to free-up space for new building projects. It must be understood that with the burning of a house, the territory comes under the ownership of the municipality. Today, city property is managed by a person who had spent time in jail with a famous criminal organization and was extradited to Russia for the trafficking of falsified Greek passports.”
The election, in the eyes of Shein and his supporters, was the last hope of eliminating such criminals from the municipal government. As results were announced, however, evidence of electoral fraud surfaced. “On election day, with the help of the police, the Election Commission eliminated the election observers and simply refused to show the markings on the voting ballots,” said Shein, displaying a copy of what he explained to be a court decision confirming the violations. “We have an incredible database of information.” In addition to the complaints of election observers, Shein indicated that he and his followers had gathered a collection of surveillance videos, posted on YouTube, showing Election Commission officials leaving before counting votes and refusing to show observers the markings on the ballots. With such evidence pointing to fraud, Shein attempted to make his case for annulment of the election results by appealing to local courts. He lost every time. “Russian Courts have concluded that our Election Commission can know the will of the electorate without allowing them to see the voting ballots.”
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