Russia's election chief rejects calls to step down

January 5, 2012 - 3:36 PM
Russia Putin

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin listens to a governor of Tambov region Oleg Betinin, unseen, in Moscow's government building on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. Putin has a vision for a Soviet Union-lite he hopes will become a new Moscow-led Eurasian global powerhouse united by trade. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Yana Lapikova, pool)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's top election official on Thursday shrugged off protesters' demands that he step down over alleged fraud during last month's parliamentary ballot, saying he would listen only to the nations' leaders.

Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov said on Ekho Moskvy radio that he intends to serve the remaining four years of his term. He dismissed observers' statements that the Dec. 4 vote was manipulated to allow Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party retain its majority in parliament, and tried to turn the tables on his critics, accusing them of forging their evidence.

The allegations of vote violations sparked Russia's largest anti-government protests in two decades and have hurt Putin's bid to extend his 12-year rule by reclaiming the presidency in another election in March.

Tens of thousands protesters in Moscow and other Russian cities demanded Churov's dismissal. Churov said Thursday that his commission is looking into the alleged violations, but claimed that footage that showed ballot-stuffing and other fraud was doctored.

The bearded, 59-year old Churov has been derisively referred to as the "wizard" by protesters after President Dmitry Medvedev called him such after the vote. He defiantly told the radio that he wouldn't be guided by the protesters' demands.

"Any rally is politics, and I don't engage in politics," said Churov, whose commission is technically independent and non-partisan.

Ahead of a massive rally last month that drew about 100,000 people, even a presidential commission for human rights backed the demands for Churov's dismissal over vote violations.

The panel said that allegations of widespread fraud had led to a "moral and political discrediting of the election system and the lower house of parliament, creating a real threat to the Russian state."

Former Russia Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who remains close to Putin, also sided with protesters' demand for Churov's ouster, a sign that the Kremlin might opt for sacking Churov to appease public anger.

Churov argued Thursday that he can't be dismissed until the end of his term under Russian law. Asked whether he would obey a request by Putin or Medvedev to step down voluntarily, he answered, "We shall discuss it when they ask for that."

Churov, who started working under Putin back at the time when the Russian leader was still a city official in St.Petersburg in the early 1990s, won notoriety by declaring once that "Putin is always right."

Asked whether his longtime links with Putin represents a conflict of interest during the presidential race, he answered blank-faced: "No, and there can't be any. I always fulfill my duty."