Refusal of access to OSCE election observers shows Russia's true face

16 November 2007

Refusal of access to OSCE election observers shows Russia's true face

“By refusing observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) access to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2nd December, Russia is revealing its true, undemocratic face," says SP Member of Parliament and foreign affairs specialist Harry van Bommel. Van Bommel would have been a participant in an OSCE mission which the organisation has now cancelled under pressure from the Russians.

Attempts by the OSCE to provide a credible election observation in Russia had already suffered weeks of frustration before today's announcement. OSCE diplomats and long-term observers who would under normal circumstances have arrived in the country two months before elections were due to be held had so far received no visas to enter the country. “It is completely logical for the OSCE to have called the mission off in the face of such a lack of cooperation," said Van Bommel. "Otherwise the organisation would find itself cooperating in a shameful electoral puppet show on 2nd December.”

Whether or not elections are being conducted in a fair and honest manner must primarily be determined in the weeks running up to the actual vote. Such matters as equal access to the media are of great importance to this. In Russia the important media remain under the control of the Kremlin. "The country's opposition complains constantly about the way in which United Russia, President Putin's party, dominates the media," Van Bommel said. “A judgement over this from the OSCE would therefore have been significant."

Russia has spent the last few weeks placing ever greater restrictions on what the OSCE can and cannot do. Invitations were sent out late, visas have not been issued, and the number of observers permitted has been greatly reduced. While in 2003 more than 400 OSCE observers were in Russia for that year's elections, this year only seventy were to be invited, the final judgement in relation to parliamentary elections on that occasion having been negative. 2003 mission head Bruce George called developments witnessed by his team "a step backwards in Russia's transition to democracy" and the elections "fundamentally dishonest."

“Russia is incriminating itself by clearly demonstrating that a further assessment would be unacceptable," Van Bommel said.

Cancellation of election observer missions by international organisations is rare, with the OSCE having only once before taken such a step, pulling out of a planned mission to Albania in 1996.

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