Council of Europe looks on as Russia votes

28 November 2011

Council of Europe looks on as Russia votes

Tiny Kox

December Russia’s citizens will elect their parliament. The parliament has invited international observers to follow the election process and after the event to draw the lessons of what they witness. Among these observers will be forty parliamentarians, each of whom is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). With forty-seven member states, one of which is Russia, the Council of Europe is the continent’s biggest treaty organisation. On this occasion I will be leading the team of election observers, which is both an honour and a tough task, one which will require me to be in Russia from 30th November to 5th December.

Tiny KoxBefore any election observation the Council of Europe sends, as a rule, a pre-electoral team representing the five political groups in the Parliamentary Assembly. I was in Moscow, therefore, with four colleagues from 7th to 12th November, during which time we spoke with the various people involved in the election process. This included the leadership of all of the parties standing, the four parties who are already in the State Duma (Parliament) as well as the three who will be attempting to enter it anew on 4th December. The biggest party as things stand is United Russia, with the Communist Party second, the Liberal Democratic Party third and Fair Russia fourth. The three participants not currently holding seats are Jabloko, Just Cause and the Patriots of Russia. To win any seats, a party must in the last election receive at least 7% of the votes, but on this occasion parties receiving between 5% and 7% will receive a single seat in the new Duma.

I spoke in addition in November with representatives of parties who wanted to stand but were prevented from doing so because the authorities considered that they had not fulfilled the registration criteria laid down in the electoral law. A pre-electoral team always takes the opportunity also to consult with NGOs which in one way or another have played an active role in the election process.
In addition to the Council of Europe other international observers have been invited by the Duma, an important role being played in particular by those from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The OSCE will next week send some 160 short-term observers, while forty long-term observers have already been at work for a month in different parts of the country. In order to ensure the best possible cooperation, I had a useful meeting with the Special OSCE Ambassador during my visit in early November. It is our intention to hold a joint press conference in Moscow the day after the election, which the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly will also attend, as he was appointed leader of the short-term observers’ team by the OSCE.

Although the Council of Europe does numerous election observations every year, every one is different. A country’s specific circumstances play an important role in judging to what extent the elections in question fulfil the Council of Europe’s demands, criteria which the member state itself has accepted as obligatory. The aim is to assess the election process and where possible to improve it - always in agreement with the parliament in question. In relation to that I will be presenting an extended report to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 23rd January 2012 during its plenary in Strasbourg, submitting observations as well as recommendations for decisions.

Observers use both their ears and their eyes – and also their mouths, to ask questions. But an assessment is only possible once the polling stations are closed. Then we have to listen closely, and keeping your mouth shut becomes both an art and a duty, because elections remain a matter for the citizens of a country and their politicians. Together they determine how the election process unfolds and how it might be improved in the future. Democracy comes from within, not from outside.

You are here