February 7th, 2012 • SP Senator Tiny Kox is in Russia once again to prepare for a Council of Europe observer mission, this time for the presidential elections scheduled for 4th March. He will report daily for the SP website.
It’s 16 below when we land in Moscow. ‘Nothing special’, says Tatiana, welcoming me in the VIP room at Sheremetyevo airport. Tatiana is from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attached to the Russian parliamentary delegation in the Council of Europe. The Russian parliament invited me to follow up my observing of the parliamentary elections of 4th December by observing the presidential elections. My verdict on the parliamentary elections was far from generous, and in that I was not alone, as tens of thousands of Russians have since taken to the streets, most recently last Saturday, to express their anger over these ‘stolen elections’ and demand honest elections in the future. The ruling elite have not shown themselves to be deaf to these pleas. Just today in the parliament a whole series of proposals for reform was dealt with, aimed at improving matters, and on Saturday Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called his own supporters out on to the streets. Two massive demonstrations in Moscow, with tens of thousands of participants. Who would have imagined such a thing when I arrived here at the beginning of November to prepare for the parliamentary elections at a time when every demonstration, however small, was either banned outright or sabotaged? Three demonstrations in a month and before 4th March, when Russia elects its new president, there will certainly be more.
Where this will lead, no-one knows. The official campaign starts Saturday, and on the television all five presidential candidates appear continually. First Prime Minister Putin, who is seeking to become President for a third period of office. Next comes the Communist Party’s Gennadi Zjuganov, the man with the most support after Putin, then right-wing firebrand Vladimir Zjirinovski, who knows how to play the media and the people. Sergej Mironov from Just Russia is a bit longer in the tooth, and slightly more to the left. Whether the fifth candidate, Alexei Prokhorov, is also, seems doubtful. He passes off as the liberal candidate in these elections, and is also the man with the big money. Only two people are richer than Prokhorov in the whole of Russia, and that’s saying quite a lot.
I’m hoping to meet all the candidates during the next few days, but not to ask about their political views. These are interesting, but that’s not why I’m here. What I do want to hear is whether they believe that this campaign will be an improvement on those which preceded the parliamentary elections. What promises in this direction have been made, and what has been done about them? And what would have to change in Russia in the future in order to give Russia free and fair elections?
Together with my four colleagues – from Norway, Poland, Italy and Finland – I’ll be putting these questions to the candidates, to domestic election observers, human rights institutes and journalists. As head of the delegation, on Saturday I’ll be hosting a press conference to publicise our provisional findings. This evening, I’ll be going through our programme with the people from the Council of Europe staff. They have enormous experience, having been through numerous observer missions. I shall need their help, because not everything here in Moscow is quite how it appears.