Russia: complicated elections coming up

13 November 2011

Russia: complicated elections coming up

Greater access to the media and broader campaigning opportunities for political parties, but also an uneven playing field and fears of possible manipulation of election results: these are what leaders of political parties, human rights organisations and observers from within the country point to in the run-up to the Russian parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

SP Senator Tiny Kox, leader of the team of observers from the Council of Europe, presented a report to the Russian media on his initial findings following a week of investigations in which he was advised in a series of discussions of the various pluses and minuses in the election campaign already under way.

Kox was in Russia last week at the invitation of the State Duma – the Russian Parliament – fresh elections for which will be held on December 4th. Seven parties are taking part in the elections, of which three have currently no parliamentary representation. A number of parties have been excluded from participation because, according to a decision of the Ministry of Justice, they fail to fulfil the legal criteria. Accompanied by four fellow parliamentarians from different European countries, Kox spoke with all of these parties. Parties taking part in the elections said that the main pluses were improved access to the media and more space to conduct their campaigns. Debates between all participating parties were being broadcast on major national television and radio stations and each party had an equal amount of broadcast time at its own disposal. In addition, agreement appear to have been reached between them on the need to lower to 5% the existing 7% threshold which parties must reach before they gain seats in the Duma and to simplify registration requirements for new political parties.

Yet many differences of opinion are also evident. The governing United Russia party of President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin has, as a result of these two office holders, received greater attention in the media. The leadership of United Russia is aware of this, but insists that it is a normal phenomenon, while other parties argue that it sells them short. In addition, several parties fear that United Russia will take advantage of its positions in the Russian Federation, while some believe that the election results may be manipulated. Not everyone shares these fears, however. The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, Zjirinovski, speaks in terms of ‘the freest and fairest elections in which he has ever taken part’. Communist Party Chairman Zjuganov, on the other hand, while acknowledging that there has been progress, gives examples also of what is in his opinion inadmissible conduct on the part of United Russia. For their part the parties excluded from the election have very few good words to say about the campaign.

Little can be said about the likely result. Opinion polls contradict each other, but everyone agrees that United Russia, whose list will be headed by President Medvedev, is losing support. Whether this trend will continue is the question, however, when there are still four weeks to go. Nor is it clear which parties will meet the election threshold.

On 30th November Senator Kox returns to Russia as head of a 40-strong delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which will work closely in both the long- and short term with observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). On 5th December in a joint press conference the two delegation leaders will present their final verdict on the Russian elections.

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