Tiny Kox in Russia: Putin doesn’t want to just win, he wants to triumph

5 March 2012

Tiny Kox in Russia: Putin doesn’t want to just win, he wants to triumph

The entire world media came to the press conference which my colleagues from the OSCE and I gave in Moscow and at which we presented our provisional findings regarding the Russian presidential elections. On Sunday Vladimir Putin was promoted by the Russian voters from Prime Minister to President – although he was also during the last few years already the most powerful man in this, the world’s most extensive country. His election was not seriously challenged, though the manner in which it was achieved has been.

Tiny KoxI explain that international observers are not interested in who wins but principally in the way in which that happens. From that point of view there was a great deal to be noted about the presidential elections here. The choice for the voters was limited – some candidates had been excluded – the playing field for the candidates was by no means level – Putin received three-quarters of the media attention – and an impartial referee was sorely missed – the chairman of the Electoral Council was a close comrade of Putin. If Russia really wants to commit itself to fulfilling its obligations as a member state of the Council of Europe, then structural reforms must be carried out regarding all of these points. In my final report I’ll be making concrete proposals.

Suggestions which I made in my report on December’s parliamentary elections were at least taken seriously. Participation in parliamentary and presidential elections will become a little easier in the future.

I explain further that our role as observers is limited. We monitored 1,000 polling stations, a considerable number, but in the whole country there were 100,000. Much more important in our view was the role that the domestic observers played this time around. Many young people had, following the goings-on in December and the mass protest demonstrations put themselves forward as observers. I met quite a few of them on Sunday when I went along to a good number of polling stations in Moscow and my colleagues had also come across a lot of extremely assertive observers elsewhere in the country.

This contributed to the fact that on election day it was often a very long time before the counting of the votes could begin. A lot of the observers were now extremely correct and wanted to have everything checked. An example was Ludmilla Alexeva, the 82 year old human rights activist and winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize, whom I came across in one of the polling stations. She suspected that she had seen many groups of voters casting their ballots who actually lived in other districts, far away. They had, however, the required papers, so she couldn’t protest. After voting they disappeared to a party in the neighbourhood for a free glass of something. Oh, well. I wished Ludmilla, whom I had already met quite often in Russia, much strength during the rest of the night. I had to get back to our central post in order to receive reports from our own observers.

They told me that the counts had taken so long mainly because the polling stations didn’t have things well organised. Or because they had new managers, after 30% were paid off after the December elections by the chairman of the Electoral Council. In 30% of cases in our view the prescribed protocol had not been followed. In some instances it seemed that ballot papers had been added. Now and again the doors were closed on our observers. And the webcams installed on Putin’s orders in 100,000 polling stations did not always work perfectly as the results of the elections were announced. Altogether too many complaints and defects. Far too many for us to be able to speak about respectable elections. In essence it surely isn’t so hard to have every vote counted, is it?

But this is no ordinary country. Putin doesn’t want to just win, he wants to really triumph. You’d say that too if you had been there to see him announce his victory in Red Square after the first provisional results came in. The mass support, drummed up, celebrate, the opposition is scandalised. According to some, Putin has, with the help of the Chairman of the Electoral Council, stolen a load of votes. Others attack the way things went before the election. And on Monday there were already plenty demonstrating. One thing is certain: the elections are over, but the fight for fair elections has only just begun.

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