Vladimir Putin proves Bush’s soul searching judgment may very well have been inaccurate; his United Russia party is poised to win in a landslide amidst cries of vote rigging by the Kremlin;

Campaigning for Russia’s parliamentary election ended on Friday with President Vladimir Putin’s party on course for a landslide victory and opposition groups voicing fears of widespread ballot-rigging.

[…]

One of Putin’s most vocal critics, former chess champion Garry Kasparov, said the vote would be illegitimate because, he said, the Kremlin would rig the result.

Officials deny any such rigging campaign and Putin has said he expected the election to be fair and transparent.

Kasparov, who served five days in prison this week for organizing an illegal demonstration, urged voters to spoil their ballot papers on Sunday in protest.

“We must show people that these elections are absolutely illegal and illegitimate,” Kasparov told a news briefing. He is not running in the election and his opposition coalition does not have widespread support.

[…]

Kremlin opponents and non-governmental groups say they have registered large numbers of violations of election rules.They have reported dozens of cases of people being told by their employers to turn up for work on Sunday where managers will check if they voted, and of people being registered to vote in more than one polling station.

Western governments are concerned that Europe’s main ODIHR vote monitoring watchdog — widely regarded as the yardstick for elections in ex-Soviet states — will not be at the vote. The body pulled out, citing obstruction from Moscow.

A senior member of the United Russia party said it was not up to foreign observers to determine if the election was fair.

“It is not foreign election observers who guarantee democracy in Russia, but first and foremost it is the will and political culture of the people,” said Lyubov Sliska, deputy speaker of the State Duma lower house of parliament.

You’ve really got to wonder if Putin took a page from the 2004 election regarding international observers.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a team in 2004, and according to their final report, they had similar resistance to outside observation, though in the U.S. it was for a far more subtle reason (emphasis mine);

In keeping with its OSCE commitments, the United States invited the OSCE/ODIHR to observe these elections. OSCE observers were granted access to polling stations in a number of states, although sometimes only in specific counties. However, in other states, access was not possible or was limited. This was a result of state law, either because international observers were not included in the statutory categories of persons permitted to be in polling places, or because the lack of reference to international observers in state law was deemed to constitute an obstacle to their presence in polling places. Lack of observer access to the election process, both international and domestic, including at polling station level, is contrary to OSCE commitments, and limited the possibility of the OSCE EOM to comment more fully on the election process.

Perhaps Bush’s view that Putin was “very straight forward and trustworthy” was just one executive with ambitions of domination covering for another.

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