Foreign Observers Invited for Election

The Central Elections Commission opted for a theatrical approach to inviting some 400 international observers to monitor the presidential vote on March 2, with chairman Vladimir Churov personally signing the invitations for some organizations at a press conference Monday.

Following a controversy involving the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights before the State Duma elections in December, Churov held up a letter addressed to the office first. "This invitation goes to [office] director Christian Strohal," he said.

The ODIHR canceled its planned mission ahead of the December vote following a bitter dispute over restrictions and the timing of the invitations.

Moscow had slashed the bureau's observer numbers from 400 to 70 and started sending invitations only one month before the poll, prompting OSCE officials to complain about unprecedented restrictions.

"We would have liked to have had the opportunity to send a needs assessment mission and determine for ourselves how many observers we need for a credible observation," the ODIHR's acting spokesman Curtis Budden said Monday by telephone from Warsaw.

Asked when monitors could expect to get their visas, Churov argued that this depended on the monitors themselves.

"Accreditation forms will be posted on [the commission's] site by Monday 6 p.m., and processing will start as soon as we receive completed forms," he said.

Churov also dismissed criticism that 400 observers were too few for a country of 108 million voters: "A monitor is an election commission's best friend ... but a crowd of monitors is, well, just a crowd of monitors," he said.

By contrast, he praised the recent presidential vote in Uzbekistan, which the OSCE had called undemocratic.

"As far as I know, the elections were well organized. We are planning to adopt some of their experience," he said, offering the construction of playgrounds at polling stations as an example.

The Parliamentary Assemblies of both the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, will be allowed to send 30 monitors each, with some invitations issued by the Duma or the Foreign Ministry.

The OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly lambasted last December's Duma vote as "managed elections" that failed to meet many standards.

Churov lashed out at such criticism, saying international missions often deliberately choose observers for their enmity towards Russia. "But we will explain to the [Russian] people who is being sent to us," he added.

He also said that, in contrast to the Duma elections campaign, none of the four candidates registered for the presidential vote have refused to take part in televised debates.

United Russia refused to participate in debates ahead of the Duma vote.

Churov said the commission received a total of 109 applications for the presidential election, among them four who claimed to be emperors and one saying he was a Tsar.