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Vicious Circle
By Yevgenia Borisova Staff Writer

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Alexander Saly, the Communist Duma deputy who leads the Duma's investigations into election fraud, is full of plans. But just as soon as he nears the close of one investigation, there is another election, and another series of fraud allegations to tackle.

So Saly talks with excited indignation about fraud in Dagestan, in Tatarstan, in Saratov, in Bashkortostan. But ask the results of his labors and his face falls.

"I am dealing with all this for the fifth year. It all sucks up one's energy, it is very nerve-racking. The authorities are absolutely not interested in finding the truth, and they create obstacles and pressure witnesses," Saly said sadly in an interview.

"It is hard. But someone has to deal with it."

It is a thankless task, and for some a dangerous one.

Consider Dagestan: The Communist Party has found so much evidence of blatant fraud there that it has succeeded in pushing the Central Elections Commission to appeal to the Prosecutor General's Office for an audit. That was about four months ago, yet so far there are no known results.

Yet curiously, the Communists say they are holding back from filing lawsuits or criminal charges in Dagestan over the fraud they have documented.

"Dagestan is a very complicated region. Our witnesses may lose their jobs and even receive threats to their lives. We must think whether we should expose people to such danger," said Vitaly Konstantinov, a legal adviser of the Communist Party.

In fact, despite all the fraud documented, not even the Communist Party has sought a re-vote. Apparently, there is no point in doing so. "No one filed a suit to the Supreme Court about the cancellation of the presidential elections results - such a suit is impossible to win," said Konstantinov in an interview in his Moscow office. "We could sit in courts for 20 years and get nowhere."

Konstantinov speaks of election fraud with a lawyer's caution, and seems pained when asked about Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov's loud-yet-undocumented claim of 7 million votes stolen from him by Vladimir Putin.

Both he and his colleague Saly explain their work in terms of improving future elections - even as both shrug and say they expect the worst from them.

Saly, for example, wants his Duma commission to push new legislation stating clear penalties for election fraud. He argues that large-scale, organized elections fraud ought to be classified by the Criminal Code as an effort to overthrow the government - as a coup.

Konstantinov agreed, and in turn, talked more about documenting the widespread abuses of state power, "which was at its peak in these elections." He guesstimates that Putin could chalk up a full 10 percent of his vote to the bullying of governors - a commonly offered, yet unprovable, piece of speculation often met when talking about election fraud.

But Konstantinov also worries about the paradox that it is precisely in regions where "abuse of administrative resources" was most flagrant - Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Kabardino-Balkariya, Kaliningrad, Mordovia and Saratov - were local administrations are most unchecked in their power. Witnesses in court cases in these regions could face threats to their employment, "and even their lives," he said.

Sometimes he wonders: Why bother?

"I am sure our complaints and lawsuits will result in nothing. The authorities are the authorities. Our target is to attract public attention, punish fraud-makers and to make sure they have a lesson for the next time," Konstantinov said.

"But," he added, "I am certain that next time, exactly the same will happen."

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