SP Observer Endorses Council of Europe Team’s Verdict on Russian Elections: ‘Medvedev elected as voters are duped’

3 March 2008

SP Observer Endorses Council of Europe Team’s Verdict on Russian Elections: ‘Medvedev elected as voters are duped’

Although the result of the Russian Presidential election was in line with the will of most Russian voters, the basic conditions which these voters should be able to expect from democratic elections were not fulfilled.

This was the conclusion of a 22-strong delegation from the Council of Europe which gathered in Moscow this morning before the international press to pass judgement on the conduct of the election in which 52 million Russians, 70% of the total turnout, had voted for Dmitri Medvedev to be Vladimir Putin's successor. The election, according to Medvedev's delegation, gave him ‘a solid mandate’ for his coming four years as president.

Yesterday's polling appeared, however, more like a referendum on Putin's eight years than the free election of a new president, noted Swiss Council of Europe delegation member Andreas Gross, Chair of the Social Democratic group (in which the British and Irish Labour Parties participate) in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). SP Senator Tiny Kox, Chair of the United Left Group in PACE, who was also a member of the team of observers, agreed. "We have seen well-organised elections here," said Senator Kox. "But we also saw a completely unequal presence of the four candidates on the television. Dmitri Medvedev took more than 70% of the total time spent on all of the presidential candidates by television. It was made clear to everyone that he was Putin's man and therefore the guarantee of stability and progress. So he had absolutely no need for even a single debate with the other candidates. They had to make do with broadcasts in the morning or late in the evening and debates amongst themselves where it was obviously not about who was going to win first place. Other possible candidates pulled out earlier as a result of intimidation by the authorities. Demonstrations were suppressed, party offices searched, permits already granted withdrawn."

All of the governors of this immense country, nominated by Putin, were behind Medvedev and without fail used their powers to help his campaign, not wanting to jeopardise their own positions or the splendid income from salaries and kickbacks which come with them. The state and the political class are far too closely associated one with the other, Kox feels. "You see it in everything," he says. In the centre of Moscow only a gigantic billboard of Medvedev and Putin was permitted, and other candidates didn't get a look in. Red Square was readied long in advance to give a well-rehearsed victory show on Sunday evening, with Medvedev and Putin in fancy dress in the leading roles, surrounded by ear-splitting rock music and a mass of glitter and glamour."

Kox regretted the fact that more observers weren't present. "Because of the absence of sufficient observers from all over the world there were plenty of chances for manipulation. There were serious accusations of such expressed by the other candidates in the run-up to the election but also on the day itself. As a delegation we urge the new president to ensure that these complaints are investigated and judged in a serious fashion. Gennadi Zuganov, the Communist Party candidate who was the clear runner-up with 13 million votes, 18% of the total, is going to court today because, he says, he has hundreds of examples of manipulation and intimidation. His party had its own observers in a large number of the 96.000 polling stations. Zuganov told me that he would continue to expose the numerous failings, even though he did not expect to obtain justice. Corruption is widespread in Russia, including amongst judges, something I've heard from many different sources. Standing up for your rights here is a long way from winning your rights."

The Council of Europe observers are urging the Russian government and the Russian parliament to take rapid steps to ensure greater transparency regarding the financial means available to candidates and parties. "It was obvious that Medvedev could have whatever he liked while the other candidates were short of everything," Senator Kox said.

Kox found the Russian authorities difficult. "As a delegation we regret that the Russian authorities did not accept the concrete recommendations of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at the time of the election of the Duma – the national parliament – in December. As a result, we have seen once again the same shortcomings as we saw then. We are of course pleased by the promises we have received from our Russian parliamentary colleagues and from the head of the central electoral commission that the existing electoral law will be re-examined, now that the parliamentary and presidential elections are behind us. Serious reform is needed in relation to access to television time. This must be subject to real change before we can speak about normal democracy in Russia. And the way in which voter registration is conducted must be reviewed. As Corien Jonker (a Dutch Christian Democrat MP who participated in the delegation) noted, sometimes bizarre and inexplicable things happened, with voters disappearing or being added to the list. Dutch Liberal MP Han ten Broeke is urging the Russian authorities to ensure that in the coming elections they give access to long-term observers so that we can get a better insight into the whole process."

With almost all of the votes counted the new president Dmitri Medvedev had taken 70%, the Communist Chairman Gennadi Zuganov 18%, the extreme right Zirinovsky 9% and the unknown 'democratic' candidate Bogdanov (pro-NATO, pro-EU and extremely conservative) a little over 1%. The turn-out was 67%, comparable with parliamentary elections in December.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will discuss its observers' findings and recommendations on 14th April in the presence of the Russian parliamentary delegation. Senator Kox expressed the hope that in future elections candidates will be elected without the electorate being treated like fools.

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