Byline: James Morrison, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Mockery of democracy
The co-chairmen of the joint congressional human rights panel criticized the Russian elections as a "mockery" of democracy, as they announced a hearing tomorrow on charges of fraud and intimidation during Sunday's vote for the Duma, or lower house of parliament.
"It is regrettable that the conduct of Russia's state Duma elections were fraught with numerous violations of widely accepted democratic standards, especially in the pre-election period, which, at times, made Russia look like Belarus writ large," said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Belarus, a neighbor of Russia, is run by the authoritarian President Alexandr Lukashenko, whom the Bush administration has called "Europe's last dictator."
Mr. Hastings dismissed denials from Russian President Vladimir Putin and accused him of allowing "government officials to use their coercive power to produce the desired turnout and results."
Mr. Putin's United Russia party won 64 percent of the vote. With his allies in other parties, Mr. Putin can count on nearly 80 percent support in the new parliament. His main opposition, which took only 11 percent of the vote, is the Communist Party.
Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat and co-chairman of the commission, added that Mr. Putin, widely popular among Russian voters, did not need to cheat.
"President Putin was running public approval numbers that would be the envy of the heads of state of any modern democracy," Mr. Cardin said.
"There was no need to seize opposition literature, confiscate computers, intimidate and beat up campaign workers. The tactics used by Russian officials to assure a heavy vote total in favor of Mr. Putin and his United Russia party does not bode well for …