Oleg Shein, who stood as a candidate for mayor in the southern Russian city of Astrakhan on March 4, ended his 40-day hunger strike on Tuesday in protest against alleged rigging of the mayoral elections.
The results of the contested elections were not annulled, but Shein said the aim of his action was only to obtain surveillance footage from polling stations documenting vote fraud, which is to be presented in a courtroom.
“[The strike’s goals] were achieved. It’s like chess, when there’s no checkmate yet, but it’s inevitable in eight moves,” Shein wrote on his Livejournal blog on Tuesday.
Shein’s hunger strike made him a darling of the opposition nationwide, with leaders of this winter’s anti-government protests in Moscow, including whistleblowing lawyer Alexei Navalny, State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov and politically conscious socialite TV presenter Ksenia Sobchak, traveling to Astrakhan in a show of support of his strike.
Shein, 40, a member of the A Just Russia opposition party, scored under 30 percent of the vote at the mayoral elections, compared to 60 percent for Mikhail Stolyarov, a candidate of the ruling United Russia.
But he insists up to 30 percent of the vote was blatantly rigged despite surveillance at polling stations.
The government shelled out 13 billion rubles ($440 million) to outfit some 91,000 polling stations nationwide with video cameras after allegations of widespread vote fraud at the parliamentary elections in December, which triggered mass street protests in Moscow.
Footage was supposed to be freely available on request, but Shein had to go on hunger strike to retrieve it, with the Communications and Press Ministry, which oversaw the camera surveillance system at the elections, taking more than a month to provide it.
Shein appealed the mayoral vote results in court, with the first hearing set for Thursday. He said results were rigged at 128 of 203 polling stations citywide.
The head of the Central Elections Commission, Vladimir Churov, conceded after watching some of the footage with Shein last week that the videos documented “procedural violations,” but not falsifications. Shein dismissed it as a technicality.
Shein was ready to end the strike last week, but prolonged it because several of his supporters were placed under short-term arrest over petty crimes, in what he called intimidation by the Astrakhan authorities. Four of his supporters who also participated in the strike from day one ended it on Monday.
Shein and his supporters will have to subsist at least two weeks on juice and baby food before their bodies will be ready to take in regular food, nutritionist Ruzanna Yeganyan said. Shein, a vegetarian, said he was down 14 kilogram from his normal weight of 78 kilogram after the hunger strike.