Russians blog to highlight fears of election fraud

Wed Nov 30, 2011 2:06pm EST
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By Alissa de Carbonnel

CHELYABINSK, Russia (Reuters) - When bloggers posted what they said was a tape of the governor of this industrial region telling local employers to organize "compulsory voting" for Vladimir Putin's ruling party, it caused a stir across Russia.

But no local newspapers or television stations reported the story in Chelyabinsk, a city of 1.1 million people 1,600 km (1,000 miles) east of Moscow.

The governor's office says he has done nothing wrong but the episode highlights a new challenge for the leaders of Russian regions where bloggers are increasingly using the Internet to subvert their grip on traditional media.

Many Russians, long accustomed to allegations of vote rigging and irregularities, shrug their shoulders at such reports before a parliamentary election on Sunday. Most get their news from television stations in thrall to the Kremlin.

But a growing number of Russians are using new media to spread what they say is evidence of dirty campaigning by Putin's United Russia, which is widely known on the blogosphere as "the party of swindlers and thieves."

"If the authorities used to have a monopoly in the information sphere, they no longer do," said Konstantin von Eggert, a commentator for Kommersant FM radio in Moscow.

"This is partly linked to voters' fatigue with always seeing the same faces on television but also with the appearance of a serious, so far unfettered source of alternative news."

Eggert said the increase in Internet criticism was unlikely to translate into significant support for any opposition party in Sunday's election, in which United Russia is expected to secure a reduced majority in the lower house.   Continued...

<p>Annelies van den Belt, the head of SUP media, talks with a Reuters journalist during an interview in Moscow October 25, 2011. REUTERS/Anton Golubev</p>