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MOSCOW, April 16 (Itar-Tass) - On Saturday the city of Astrakhan in southern Russia hosted two large-scale rallies. The first one was initiated by the ruling United Russia party in support of elected mayor Mikhail Stolyarov and the second one – by supporters of mayoral candidate from A Just Russia, Oleg Shein, who waged a hunger strike, demanding abolition of the election returns. The rally of Astrakhan’s opposition proved one of the largest protests staged in regions over the past year. However, experts have no expectations that the election results will be cancelled. They believe that this step can threaten legitimacy of all elections held all over the country.
It took the whole week to prepare the rally in Astrakhan. Its task was to demonstrate that there are many more of those discontented with the election outcome than 15 hunger strikers led by Oleg Shein, RBK daily wrote. Many people from other regions and civil rights activists arrived in Astrakhan to show solidarity. According to estimates of rally participants, from 5,000 to 10,000 people went to streets on Saturday.
On Monday Oleg Shein plans to file a claim to the Astrakhan city court demanding abolition of the election results, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily reported. Later in the day he together with the chairman of the Russian Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, and United Russia members will study videos from polling stations. Shein’s lawyers, who looked through some videos, stated that at some polling stations web-cameras were switched off or turned back. Experts interviewed by the daily express faint hope that the election outcome can be cancelled.
The situation in Astrakhan led the conflicting parties into deadlock. A Just Russia’s position remains unclear. It evidently tries to skim the cream off the last events, the daily wrote. At the same time its representatives told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that they began to study videos from polling stations only on Friday and until that time they had no proof of mass frauds. At the same time nobody prevented A Just Russia to file a claim in a court exhibiting legal evidence they obtained. It is also unclear why the central election commission dragged feet with providing evidence of wrongness of those who accused Churov. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s firm position in this issue leaves no space for manoeuvring. Probably, on Monday the situation will be resolved – hunger strikers will gradually end their protest.
Oleg Shein insists that he will end his hunger strike, when the situation breaks the stalemate – irrespective of whether this will be court proceedings, the central election commission’s statement or any other response steps, Novye Izvestiya wrote. On Sunday police visited the headquarters of the former mayoral candidate to read out protocols that rallies in his support were illegal. At the same time several hunger strikers needed medical assistance over deteriorating health.
Political scientist Rostislav Turovsky cited by the Kommersant business daily expressed confidence that despite mass protests of the opposition the election returns will not be cancelled. “Much time has passed. Moreover, the gap between the winner of the race and Shein is too big. Abolition of the election results in Astrakhan will put into question legitimacy of all elections held in Russia. Most probably, the authorities will use the tactics of concessions in relation to Shein and A Just Russia that is interested in securing its place after the party reform,” he said. The expert believes that most probably “shadow bargaining” will begin and it will lead to the settlement of the conflict. “In this situation the presidential administration has opportunities to influence rally participants and conduct talks with the leaders,” Turovsky said.