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By Yevgenia Borisova

It took next to a miracle to land an interview with the head of a local elections commission in Dagestan. Eager to hold onto their jobs and afraid for their families, many refused to talk. But one brave soul - under strict condition of anonymity - agreed to reveal how elections were falsified to The Moscow Times.

"Our political system is the root of the evil here. Controlled by [Magomed-Ali] Magomedov and people close to him - including his relatives - they form clans that permit others to act according to their framework. There are no laws here - the boss is the law. No one needs you to get the job done right - what they need is your obsequiousness and obedience," said the head of the commission. "In Dagestan, about 65 percent of the workforce does not have jobs; it is easy to replace the disobedient."

Precinct commissions in Dagestan are staffed by people who are easily controllable, he said, including personnel from schools and universities who are directly dependent on the local administration for funding.

"There was complete fraud throughout the republic. Pressure was put on all mid-level directors of factories, etc. They were told they must obey or be fired. In this system everything is controlled by the local administrations. They are the ones to compile the final [election] results. They destroyed ballots for Zyuganov and other [candidates] and added the necessary number for Putin."

"They told us to use any tricks we could not to give copies of the protocols [to observers] on election day until the administration could straighten out the results the next morning," he said. "We could bring them, say, 64 percent [of the vote] for Putin and they would reject it and demand we increase the percentage."

The easiest means of falsification is to cast ballots for those who do not vote, he said. Voter registration lists are prepared in advance and then filled in for those who did not show up, he said. "There are a lot of extra ballots. Normally only about 50 percent of the population votes - mainly elderly people. Youngsters don't care and many adults just don't believe in the electoral system."

According to Russian law, ballots for all the registered voters of a particular precinct must be kept in the election room during voting hours. But in Dagestan, many precincts only brought in ballots as they were needed and left the rest in a safe-deposit box, the commission chief said.

"Say there are 3,000 voters - it means that 1,500 ballots are in reserve. We simply don't cut the ends off as we should do to invalidate the unused ballots."

"Additional lists are another means [of skewing the results]. They could list, say, 500 people who are loyal to the administration. These people then obtain several otkrepitelnie talony - (absentee ballot forms that allow a registered voter who cannot vote at his home precinct to cast his ballot elsewhere). Those people are then driven to vote from precinct to precinct in a shuttle bus provided by the administration," he said.

Even without these talony, official envoys who are not registered at a particular precinct can show up with their passport and be given a ballot, he said. "What [election] observers are going to pay attention to a man dressed in a suit and tie, or a respectable-looking woman?"

"Also, on that particular day the clocks were changed and many observers may have been confused by the time difference and come late," he said, adding that many precinct officials may have taken advantage of the extra hour to stuff the ballot box.

"I am sure that if things here went normally the Communists would have won in Dagestan. I remember in 1996 [when he already headed a commission] about 80 percent voted for Zyuganov, but the election results were simply turned upside down," he said. "There is nothing but poverty here. The Dargintsy and the Avartsy [two of the 30 main nationalities populating Dagestan] hold all the significant posts and it is almost impossible for anyone else to be promoted."

"The idea here is to hold on to power as long as possible and to be surrounded by puppets. Putin may or may not know about it - I don't think people in Moscow could completely understand our system. But the people here are told to adapt to the new power structure and demonstrate their loyalty. They live in a state of fear that they will be fired. The best are leaving and the intelligentsia, such as doctors and teachers, are just waiting to have a heart attack," he said, adding that Dagestan is in desperate need of federal funds to compensate for the damages inflicted during the invasion of Chechen rebels last August.

"I am sure nothing will change here in the next few years. Just the idea that [voting results] are so completely falsified brings on a feeling of helplessness. People understand the uselessness of their efforts to fight injustice - here every court will take the side of the administration."

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