February 10th, 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.
Today I was in the State Duma, the Russian Federation’s parliament, opposite the Kremlin, with three of the presidential candidates, a motley mix of MPs, and the parliament’s new president. A full programme, but one with a big gap in it, one reserved for the fourth candidate. Vladimir Putin has made it known that he is too busy with affairs of state. Could be, I tell a number of journalists who ask me what I think of this. But we are also here to find out what kind of parliament this is. I want to speak to all of the candidates – on election day everyone starts out equal, with no votes.
That’s if everything goes as it should... Everyone I meet insists that the great desire of the Russian people is to see free and fair elections on 4th March. This was what it said on lots of the banners which in the last two months have been paraded en masse through Moscow and many other cities. President Medvedev says that’s what he wants and Premier Putin no less so, as do all political parties. So why not just do it, I ask the incoming president of the parliament, Sergei Naryshkin. If it was up him, he says. He sees no other option, now that parliamentary coalitions have become necessary following the elections to the Duma and the public are making themselves so emphatically heard. He says that my criticism of these elections has been taken very seriously and that a great deal needs to be changed in Russian politics. Today the parliament has decided that it will consider making a number of amendments to the electoral law prior to 4th March, and Naryshkin says that he is certain that they will be adopted: the almost unreachable requirement for two million signatures before a newcomer can participate in the presidential elections will be scrapped; the rules on founding a political party drastically simplified; direct elections will be instituted for the regional governors who together assist in ruling this immense country.
Remarkable plans, but no good to Grigori Yavlinski. His two million signatures were considered yesterday by the High Court and found wanting. Tomorrow I have a meeting with Yavlinski but from today the game is probably up for him. So remaining in the race, besides Putin, are the social democrat Mironov, the nationalist Zyirinovski, the communist Zyuganov and Prokhorov, the newcomer, with whom I also have a meeting tomorrow.
I meet the other three there and then in their offices in the Duma. The talks are direct and open. We know each other. They know that they lag in popularity to Putin, but together they hope to hold him back from victory in the first round. All three feel that they were robbed in the parliamentary elections, when United Russia illegally made off with some of their votes, they say. They fear that this could happen again on 4th March, and applaud therefore the fact that the Council of Europe and the OSCE have sent observers. They are aware of my recommendations, and agree with them. But they are under no illusions. A great deal goes unobserved, as long as there are no impartial observers at local, regional or national level.
In their view Churov, president of the electoral council, must go, and immediately. And that in itself isn’t enough. Domestic observers must no longer – with or without the help of the police – be liable to be excluded from a polling station if they are found to be too critical, and we should keep an eye out for this. The zest to become observers, incidentally, is a lot greater than it was. The coming elections are anyway going to be exciting, and for everyone. Should there be a second round, they are counting on there being an ‘anyone but Putin’ vote. That remains to be seen. Premier Putin isn’t sitting quietly by. He once again occupies, along with President Medvedev, a great deal of the news. The competition complains vociferously of this. But they could also get their turn, today in the big TV debate between Zyuganov and Vladimir Zyirinovski, in prime time. Most polls point to the Great Absentee. Vladimir Putin has no time for me, and just as little to take part in these debates. As long as his popularity doesn’t fall any further, many people say. Should that indeed happen, then everything could change. Everything that’s happening here is conditional.
It’s almost midnight, and the national television is giving an extended report of my meetings with the different candidates. Outside the thermometer is dropping towards -25, and I’m curious to know what tomorrow will bring.