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A Saratov Territorial br> By Yevgenia Borisova

All was well until 3 a.m. on the night of March 27, said Arkady Bidonko, a Communist Party representative to the territorial commission in Balakovo, a town about 100 kilometers east of Saratov, the regional capital.

But then the region's first election results started to come in, showing that Vladimir Putin and [Saratov Governor Dmitry] Ayatskov were not getting 50 percent of the vote. After that the territorial commission moved in and became unmanageable, said Bidonko, a retired military officer who has served on the territorial commission - the unit that unites several local polling stations - for many years.

Representatives of the administration as well as the heads of local enterprises soon flocked to the offices of the territorial commission.

"The head of the commission said she felt sick and left. I am sure she just didn't want to be responsible for what went on after that," Bidonko told The Moscow Times in a telephone interview from Balakovo. "What were all those people doing there at that time of the night? They were doing what was expected of them. They were faking the results."

Territorial commission members later protested Bidonko's claim, saying they just "were doing their jobs" in spite of the fact that the head of the commission had left.

According to Bidonko, at the end of election day 22,000 unused ballots were not pogasheny, or made invalid, as is required by law.

"They were kept in an unsealed room. Anyone could take any number of ballots," he said. "All night long they were falsifying the results! All night the protocols [of the polling stations] were being rewritten."

Only in the morning did the commission members decide to cut the ends off the unused ballots, thus rendering them invalid. But shortly thereafter they were burned before they could be counted properly, Bidonko said.

"These were not elections, but a rude falsification with interference from the administration - a dictatorship of lawlessness," said Bidonko, adding that the Communists had filed a lawsuit in the local court, but nothing had come of it.

"The regional court refused to deal with us, and so did the local one," Bidonko said. "The head of our commission knows that we will not be able to prove anything in these courts. I told her, 'Why should we go to court when the fraud is so obvious in so many polling stations? In only 12 precincts we found about 14,000 votes added to Ayatskov's count.'"

The court case was divided in two, one of which was passed up to the regional court, and the other was sent back to the commission, whereupon the members put the issue to a vote and a majority decided that "everything was fine," Bidonko said.

According to the minutes of the territorial commission meeting obtained by The Moscow Times, one commission member, Alexander Andriashkin, was quoted as saying: "The established practice of the territorial commission's work allows for violations to take place, but this is nothing new."

Olga Alimova, a secretary with the Saratov Communist Party, confirmed that falsifying results in polling stations where there are no observers also took place in the past.

"In the past they only falsified those tallies where there were no observers. We got no more than two or three forged protocols," said Alimova. "But now we have more than a 100 forged protocols. I am sure that most of the tallies at the precincts where there were no observers are fake."

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