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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Udmurtia Votes for First President Under a Cloud

The speaker of Udmurtia’s parliament has been using the national vote-counting network to gain an unfair advantage in Sunday’s presidential race in the republic, his opponents say.

On Tuesday, the Central Elections Commission rejected a complaint by Udmurtia citizens who said the speaker, Alexander Volkov, should be struck from the ballot. But it acknowledged that the much-touted GAS-Vybory vote-counting system had been used to distribute campaign propaganda against one of Volkov’s opponents.

Sunday’s vote marks the first time that Udmurtia residents will be electing a president. Usually, the speaker of parliament, who is elected by his colleagues, has been the chief executive.

The group of citizens who brought the complaint to the CEC said that there was a virtual blackout on information on any candidate except Volkov and that the local elections commission looked the other way at such violations.

"The [elections] commission of Udmurtia takes the position that coverage of the activities of the chairman of the State Council of Udmurtia, Alexander Alexandrovich Volkov, is a priori not considered campaigning," Yulia Ivishina, one of those who brought the complaint, told journalists at the CEC on Monday.

But the CEC said there were no grounds to strike Volkov from the ballot. "Candidate Volkov himself and his aides did not participate in this illegal activity," said commission member Lyubov Ageyeva.

The CEC acknowledged that the Udmurtia Union of Journalists had used GAS-Vybory to send e-mail messages that were received by local papers in the rural districts. The elections commission found that many of those messages contained "agitation" against Nikolai Ganza, the republic’s prime minister and a presidential candidate.

The CEC ruled Tuesday that it was unacceptable to use GAS-Vybory for campaign purposes — and sent letters to regional elections commissions saying so. The newspaper Vremya Novostei reported there was little else it could do since there is no law regulating the use of GAS-Vybory.

CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov said he has another concern about the Udmurtia election. Under local election law, the victor must win no less than 25 percent of the vote in one round. If this does not happen Sunday, "new elections will be held in the republic, with all of the consequences and expenses that go with it," Veshnyakov said Monday in remarks reported by Interfax.