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Observer Group Questions Presidential Vote Result

Opposition election-monitoring group League of Voters announced Wednesday that they do not acknowledge the results of Sunday's presidential election, saying it believes that the number of people voting in "special circumstances" inexplicably increased by 3 million compared to December's State Duma vote.

The "special circumstances" highlighted by the group included the use of absentee ballots, voting before the elections and also outside of polling stations, practices reserved for use by voters who cannot cast ballots in their home district on election day.

The League estimates that Vladimir Putin should have received 53 per cent of the vote, 10.3 points lower than the official results, political analyst and founding member Dmitry Oreshkin told journalists.

Oreshkin added that billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov's vote count suffered most from the falsifications, saying Prokhorov should have gained 16 percent of the vote, according to the league's findings, as opposed to his official tally of eight percent.

"So, you can see that the differences are significant," Oreshkin said.

The League's vote total for Putin roughly aligns with results counted by independent election watchdog Golos and by the group Citizen Observer, which gave Putin 50.1 percent and 49.3 percent respectively, using data from copies of vote protocols submitted to the groups by election observers. Citizen Observer was thus the only group of the three to say that Putin should have had to enter a second round of voting.

League of Voters said it did not operate in North Caucasus republics, which are notorious for returning Soviet-style results for Putin.

"We do not have a presence in Chechnya and Dagestan because to be an observer there is to risk your head," Oreshkin noted. The two regions reported 99.8 percent and 92.8 percent respectively for Putin.

The League is a charitably funded organization set up earlier this year by 16 public figures, including author Boris Akunin and journalist Leonid Parfyonov, that has a declared goal of protecting citizens' voting rights.

Musician and group co-founder Georgy Vasilyev said the League's aim is not to question the legality of the election but rather to show whether it was moral or not.

"The conclusions we're making are not intended to have a relationship toward the legitimacy of the election. We are not saying that the elections were illegal...we are asking whether they were just, whether they were honest," he said.

"We are talking about moral categories, because if we start to judge their legality, they will sue us and everyone knows how that will turn out. We have no weapon other than to appeal to conscience," Vasilyev said.

Oreshkin admitted that their model was not perfect, since their network of observers was not widespread, but insisted that they had enough evidence to claim that there was large-scale falsification. He cited examples from St Petersburg, where, in 33 of the stations monitored, the published results differed from the results that observers reported.

"If we can show that there was systematic falsification in 33 stations in St Petersburg, what do you call that if not mass falsification? If the system worked like that where there were observers, what might have happened in the stations where there were not?" Oreshkin said.

In one notable case at Polling Station 109 in St. Petersburg, an observer reported that Putin had received 554 votes, while the official results showed 966 votes for Putin, Oreshkin said.

The league also implied that Putin had gained an unjust advantage in the electoral campaign through an inappropriate use of state resources.

"One of the the candidates gained an undoubted advantage by illegally using massive state resources — financial, organizational and propagandist — for his own interests," a press release by the group said.

United Russia deputy Robert Shlegel launched a storm of attacks on Twitter following the group's announcements.

"The League of Voters is trying to fulfill the role for which I understand they were created. Funny guys and clearly interesting to somebody," he wrote.

"As it turns out, they're just waving their hands after the fight," he added.

The League also announced that it will support the opposition rally planned for this Saturday on Novy Arbat.

"We want to make the rally special by making observers the heroes of it," said journalist and co-founder Sergei Parkhomenko.

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