Vote-buying scandal gathers pace

As reported, the Security Police (DP) are currently investigating six criminal cases involving allegations of a widespread petty voter-bribing scheme in and around eastern Latgale provincial communities on election day October 4. LTV’s investigative news program De Facto reported from the scene Sunday and uncovered some disturbing and sometimes comical details directly from local residents a week after the nation chose its 12th Saeima.

In fact, according to DP deputy chief Juris Leitietis, vote-buying incidents were reported in record numbers during the 12th Saeima elections, and came from all regions of the country. The nature of the reports is similar amongst almost all complaints received.

“The unifying element is various disparate people agreeing to assemble into a single vehicle and being transported to a specific distant neighboring voting precinct, where they vote for a specific party list, keeping the other lists as proof for receiving a small cash-or-goods payment. Money or honey (barter) – that depends on the particular case,” explained deputy chief Leitietis.

Many of the allegations have centered on Unity politician Dzintars Zaķis who temporarily excused himself from all party activities Sunday, while insisting that he is innocent of any personal involvement in the scandal.

The Latgale-listed politician received enough 'plusses' from regional constituent Unity lists to propel him to a first-place guaranteed spot in the 12th Saeima, however the allegations have for now cost him, and likely his party, which wants to lead the next government, much credibility in the post-election aftermath.

The stories from local residents were uncovered by LTV's Olga Dragileva (video in Latvian and Russian).

The central Vidzeme provincial town of Ērgļi is located some distance from the Latgale parish of Dekšāres, but that didn’t prevent a free busload of voters-on-tour from casting their ballots precisely there last Saturday. Most of them said they heard about the opportunity ‘through the grapevine’ and the trip to the polling station was described to them as an "excursion".

“This guy comes up and says ‘You on the excursion?’ Yeah, I say. ‘Okay so you’re in our bunch, as they say. He says we’ll have to vote on the way, you got your passport? Because we don’t know what time we’ll be back, we need them along,” said Ērgļi town residents Irisa and Anna.

Dekšāres resident Andrejs said he witnessed a similar spectacle.

“On election day I witnessed a nightmare like never before. One of them was hanging on the fence drunk. Extremely drunk. There was this lady handing out cigarettes and planning further action… Then the guy on the fence fell right in front of my car, I had to hit the brakes. The less affected drinkers of the election-elixir picked him up and drove off,” recalls Andrejs.

Another bus passenger told of vodka freebies handed out to participants after the vote. On the way back around the village of Vestiena two cars awaited the citizens fresh from their civic duty.

“One of them got in with us, we never saw the other guy. The whole busload of us got some. All of us, absolutely, to a head,” claimed Ērgļi town resident Rita, citing a 20-euro bill as the price of a vote.

Another man named in connection with organizing the trip denied taking part. Others also denied having received any payments or being instructed to vote a certain way.

However, busloads weren’t the only mode of transport employed, as another resident,  this time from Viļāni, where Zaķis party-mate Juris Vidiņš first lodged the formal report of vote-buying with the DP.

“They ran up to me suddenly, can I take them in my car? They’ll pay 10 euros! We’ll earn 10 euros and have a real party,” said Viļāni resident Jūlija.

She cleverly decided to strike Zaķis from the ballot instead of marking his name with a plus, but took the money anyway and spent it on groceries.

“I bought bread, margarine, oil, but they all bought those seven-percent beer bottles. They all got so drunk, I saw them that evening, staggering around the road. And they were so happy, so happy to be blessed with this gift from nowhere. But they told me – keep your mouth shut. And yet my mouth can’t stay shut, because I’m a citizen of Latvia, born and raised here and I believe in God,” said Jūlija, explaining why she called the police immediately afterwards.

Another man interviewed by De Facto was unable to remember candidate Zaķis’ first name, though claiming to be a supporter of the politician. He claimed to have worked at the same quarry to which Zaķis also had ties.

Meanwhile, Zaķis said his conscience is clean and that the DP investigation will reveal the real instigators of the scandal, likely to be rivals from within or without his own party.

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