Dirty tricks in St Petersburg

August 23, 2016

Alexandr Shurshev, a candidate supported by Open Russia, has had his signature lists rejected, and as a result currently cannot stand for election to the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly.

Campaign cube for Alexandr Shurshev

Shurshev filed a complaint with the St Petersburg Election Commission on 18 August in connection with a dozen signature lists and 65 supplements. The self-nominated candidate is challenging the decision of Territorial Election Commission (TEC) № 1, which rejected all the signatures collected for his nomination on a procedural technicality. But now that the Central Election Commission (CEC) has overturned the decision to bar PARNAS, Shurshev still stands a good chance of taking part in the election.

To date, Shurshev has come up against any number of administrative obstacles.

Start them young

Campaigning for United Russia in Electoral District № 1 began in earnest in April. Oleg Smakotin, head of Yekateringofsky Municipal District, gave a lesson about the elections at School № 287 and presented the kids with a party flag.

The city councillor was not put off by the Law on Education, which prohibits party activity in schools (art. 27). Shurshev filed an appeal with the Committee on Education, which merely reprimanded the school.

Campaign cubes

By early June, Shurshev had set up 20 campaign cubes and distributed nearly 6000 leaflets when Admiralteysky District officials unexpectedly banned the cubes, claiming that Shurshev’s agitprop was getting in the way of pedestrians.

Alexandr Shurshev speaks with a voter

The cubes fell under the surveillance of Yekateringofsky deputies, as well as current and former members of the Young Guard of United Russia. For instance, signature collectors were spied on by Dmitry Nechayev, member of Kolomna Municipal District and nephew of TEC № 1 head Olga Nechaeva, while an unknown individual with a United Russia badge promised to give the candidates “a liver shot.” Later, one of the cubes was sliced up.

Shurshev appealed the decision to ban the cubes. By sheer bad luck no doubt, the court “misplaced” the penultimate page in all four copies of the statement of claim bearing Shurshev’s signature.

Acting like real spies, the Young Guardists tried to infiltrate Shurshev’s team. For instance, a youth by the name of Mark Kovalenko, a talented canvasser it transpired, said that he felt let down by United Russia. Later he turned up at Shurshev’s cube in a Young Guard jacket, this time telling passers-by about foreign funding and the “fifth column.”

Leaflets

In early July, anonymous individuals began posting warnings on building entrances, sometimes (as if making a point) over Shurshev’s flyers. The “well-wishers” wrote that fraudsters were operating in the area, fishing for passport details under various pretexts to arrange loans. As it happens, signature collectors have to enter passport details in their lists.

It might have passed as coincidence had the leaflets not been signed by Residents of St Petersburg, a social movement founded in 2003 by deputy Sergei Solovyov and three elected officials from Sennoy Municipal District. The chairman of the movement is a deputy from the same municipality.

In late July, St Petersburg resident Galina Negodina reported that a nurse at Clinic № 27 was handing out to patients a report on the work of Solovyov and “voter order forms,” allowing members of the public to list their concerns. Solovyov confirmed that the documents were his, adding that until he is registered it cannot be considered campaigning.

However, according to paragraph 1 article 49 of the Federal Law on Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights, the campaign period starts the moment a candidate is nominated, and state employees are prohibited from all forms of pre-election campaigning (par. 7(b) art. 48 of the same law).

Campaigning

In late July, the TEC notified Shurshev that his entire campaign was unlawful. A complaint was filed with the commission by Viktor Bykov, an LDPR candidate and former aide to Solovyov. Somehow he had come into possession of information that the format of Shurshev’s printed materials did not match the price paid for them. Bykov was represented at the meeting by lawyer Ivan Popov, working for the Admiralteysky District Administration, who had previously opposed Shurshev in a court case relating to the municipal elections of 2014.

At the end of that same working day, the campaign cube on Semyonov Square, which Shurshev had refused to dismantle, was paid a visit by police under the direction of TEC chairperson Olga Nechaeva. The police seized leaflets and cut down the promotional banner. Shurshev filmed everything on video, and when he approached Nechaeva heard a squeamish “Get away from me, you stink.”

Shurshev’s campaign team

Not satisfied with their handiwork, the officers took one of the signature collectors to the 38th Police Department and drew up an administrative report against her. On 29 July, another of Shurshev’s collectors was kidnapped by police for the same reason.

Shurshev filed a complaint with the City Election Committee, and on 1 August a working group under a higher commission partially allowed his campaign to continue, but it was too late: the signatures had to be submitted by 2 August.

Signatures

Handwriting experts invite candidates to talk with them when checking their signature lists. Shurshev was invited on 3 August, the day after delivering the signatures to the TEC. That day, two graphologists were checking the signature lists of Shurshev and another self-nominated candidate Oleg Stolyarov [head of Kolomna Municipal District and loyal to Shurshev’s chief rival, United Russia deputy Sergei Solovyov – Ed]. One of the two women introduced herself as Anna Ivkina. But for some reason, instead of Ivkina’s signature a different surname appeared in the conclusion.

The handwriting experts’ findings baffled Shurshev’s campaign team. For example, a row in one of the signature lists had been rejected, but the line was empty. When this was pointed out, TEC head Olga Nechaeva phoned the handwriting experts: “You probably made a mistake there. You had such-and-such line in mind.” Just 20 minutes later, a new version of the expert appraisal was lying on Nechaeva’s desk.

The grounds for refusing Shurshev’s registration are threefold: sixty signatures were rejected by the handwriting commission, and around 87 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD).

Interestingly, one of the signatures rejected by the MVD belonged to a voter who had contested the outcome of the 2014 municipal elections together with Shurshev’s team, i.e. an error had evidently crept into the MVD database. Shurshev collected statements from six people whose signatures the MVD had declared invalid.

One of the folders of the signature analysis contained a description of the voter that did not coincide with reality. There was also a discrepancy with the number of signature lists.

Even more surprisingly for Shurshev’s team was the TEC’s claim that the signature lists had not been properly legalised. Shurshev works under contract as an aide to Olga Galkina, a non-partisan deputy of the Legislative Assembly. The agreement is extended every month. The document specifies the services to be rendered by the aide. The issue was raised by Stolyarov’s representative, lawyer Ivan Popov, at the Election Committee meeting.

First, Shurshev was reminded of the requirement to notify the commission of any changes to his personal data, and to inform them of any extensions to the contract. In fact, nothing had changed; Shurshev was still Galkina’s aide. Still, following the logic of the commission, it was necessary to reregister this exact same position every month.

Second, Shurshev wrote in his signature lists that he worked as a deputy’s aide, but his contract mentions no such position and only lists his duties.

Neither was the commission convinced by Shurshev’s argument that his status as a deputy’s aide is described in detail in a provision approved by the city parliament in the 2000s. The contract was signed by the chairman of the Legislative Assembly, Vyacheslav Makarov. On the basis of this document, the opposition candidate was issued a certificate indicating his position.

Despite Shurshev’s objections, on 8 August TEC № 1 rejected every one of his 4,018 signatures.

Curiously, the meeting of the Election Committee was attended by two men who were allegedly the authorised representatives of the other candidates. They directed insults at Fyodor Gorozhanko, a member of Shurshev’s campaign team. He called the police, who promptly arrested him, not the instigators. TEC member Alexandr Zimin filed a statement to the effect that Gorozhanko had impeded the work of the commission.

In line with the Federal Law on Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights, Shurshev should receive a decision on his complaint within five days.

This article was first published in Moi Rayon [My Region]

 

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