• Pamfilova may head Central Election Commission, Tass reports
  • Three in four Russians would back Putin in 2018, poll shows

Russian President Vladimir Putin may appoint his human rights commissioner to lead the body overseeing elections, amid complaints from independent monitors of a crackdown ahead of parliamentary and presidential votes.

Putin named Ella Pamfilova on Thursday among five presidential nominees to the Central Election Commission and left the body’s current chairman Vladimir Churov off his list. The president has “appointed his candidates” and changes to the commission are a “routine rotation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in a conference call.

Pamfilova is the most likely candidate to head the commission in place of Churov, who’s been chairman since 2007,  the state news service Tass reported, citing unidentified experts. The commission, which organizes and oversees the conduct of elections, comprises 15 members appointed by the president and the lower and upper houses of parliament.

Russia is preparing for parliamentary elections in September amid a second year of recession, its longest contraction in two decades, with incomes falling and the ruble sliding to record lows against the dollar following the collapse of oil prices. Despite rising hardship, 74 percent of Russians say they would vote for Putin in presidential elections due in 2018, according to a survey published Thursday by state-run VTsIOM polling company, his highest level of support in four years.

Obstructing Observers

Pamfilova, who was appointed ombudsman by Putin in 2014, is a respected rights activist and liberal who advocates dialogue between the state and civic groups. An outspoken Kremlin critic, she resigned as head of the presidential human rights council in 2010 after complaining that it was being ignored under the then President Dmitry Medvedev. Russia’s political system “drives anyone with a sense of inner freedom or human dignity right out of the country,” she said, according to a 2011 interview to Radio Free Europe.

Opposition activists have accused Churov of presiding over fraud at past elections, an allegation he’s rejected. Discontent over alleged ballot-rigging in 2011 parliamentary elections sparked the largest anti-Kremlin protests in nearly two decades against Putin’s return to the presidency in 2012.

Golos, an election monitoring group, said the Russian government has enacted a series of draconian laws since the start of the year that make it all-but impossible to deploy observers to expose ballot-stuffing.

The electoral commission has said the changes to observation rules were required to prevent deliberate attempts to cast doubt on the validity of polls. Putin last week ordered the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, to counter what he said were efforts by unnamed foreign forces to influence the parliamentary elections and undermine Russia’s sovereignty.

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