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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Panel Casts Doubt on Constitution's Validity

Turnout in last December's elections was falsified by more than 9 million votes, the head of a presidential commission analyzing the poll said Wednesday, casting doubt on the validity of Russia's new constitution. Alexander Sobyanin said that his group, which is attached to the administration of President Boris Yeltsin, had calculated that only 49 million of Russia's 106.2 million voters, or 46.1 percent of the electorate, took part in the Dec. 12 poll. If Sobyanin's figures -- extrapolated from a series of samples -- are correct, then the election day referendum on a new constitution would be invalid. His estimates contrast with the official turnout cited by the Central Electoral Commission in its final report of 58.2 million, or 54.8 percent of registered voters -- clearing the 50 percent requirement to adopt the constitution. Sobyanin said in a telephone interview that the discrepancy was probably caused by regional electoral officials who manipulated the tally to ensure the election of local administration officials. He ruled out the possibility that officials in Yeltsin's administration or the Central Electoral Commission were involved. "These figures are political dynamite," Izvestia commented Tuesday in a report on Sobyanin's findings. The paper said that the state structures empowered by the new constitution -- the State Duma, the Federation Council, and the government -- would have no legal foundation and their actions since the December elections would be void. Such a turn of events would be disastrous for the Yeltsin team, which views the adoption of Russia's first post-Soviet constitution as the silver lining to an election that returned a majority of the president's opponents to the lower house of parliament, the State Duma. The article also said that in certain regions the Russian Communist Party and their Agrarian allies had received millions of votes as a result of illegal pressure exerted on rural voters by electoral officials. Izvestia quoted Nikolai Ryabov, who heads Russia's Central Electoral Commission, as denying widespread tampering, although he added: "I cannot say that nothing of the kind happened." Ryabov did not, however, address Sobyanin's allegations regarding the constitution vote. As a possible sign that Sobyanin's findings had rubbed the administration the wrong way, Vitaly Vyzhutovich, the author of the Izvestia article, said in a phone interview that Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, fired Sobyanin's group after reading the report. Sobyanin would not confirm or deny whether he had been fired, saying only: "I do not know whether our cooperation will continue." Administration officials contacted Wednesday refused to comment on the report. Sobyanin, who was contacted at the administration's offices at Staraya Ploshchad, said that his group has been analyzing results of national votes for Yeltsin since 1991. Despite the sensational nature of its findings, Sobyanin said his group had not intended to "tear up state structures." He also said he believed that the constitution vote should stand, despite not having garnered enough votes. "Our goal was to attract attention to the presence of inconsistencies in the tallying procedure so that the results could be checked out," he said. Sobyanin's group suggested the tampering took place after district electoral commissions in Russia's 89 regions passed their ballots to regional authorities to be counted and sent on to the federal electoral commission. The tallying was done by special "working groups" of 2-4 members, set up by and subordinate to regional administration authorities, not the Central Electoral Commission. "Of course this created an unprecedented opportunity for heads of administration," Sobyanin said. "Only they know exactly how they did it." Speculation in the Russian press about whether the Dec. 12 poll results were tampered with has been common since election night, when three top Yeltsin aides announced that the constitution had passed with what was seen as suspiciously prompt certainty. Sobyanin said his group had not recounted the election ballots, but extrapolated its findings using several methods. In spot checks of individual regions, he said it had found inconsistencies between the number of voters reported by local electoral commissions and those reported by the Central Electoral Commission. The group also found sudden changes from the earlier voting patterns of some regions and districts. These sudden changes were rarely found in cities, and always in rural areas, where it was more difficult to verify how people had voted. Sobyanin said his group had found certain districts with an unusually high turnout and an unusually low amount of invalid ballots; these were determined to be areas in which officials had added ballots.