Why the Vote Was Not Fair

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On election day, with snow covering the street in Moscow, over 60 percent of voters went to the polls at well-organized and efficient polling stations and in a mostly calm and friendly atmosphere. From St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, election observers from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the Nordic Council were generally well received by election officials.

Why did the international monitors declare that the elections were "not fair" and that they "failed to meet many OSCE and PACE commitments and standards for democratic elections"?

The Foreign Ministry has expressed bewilderment at our statement, claiming that it was filled with political bias and preconceptions. But we believe that our assessment is based on an impartial and balanced analysis.

For the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly staff based in Copenhagen, the preparations for the Dec. 2 elections started several months ago with research of the legal and political situation in Russia and logistical planning. We started by monitoring Russian and international media, which was followed by staff visits to Moscow.

Nonetheless, the official invitation from Moscow to monitor elections contained some significant limitations. For example, only 30 lawmakers were initially allowed as observers. After the president of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Goran Lennmarker, argued that these limitations were not acceptable, all of the problems with visas were resolved.

Once in Russia, the Central Elections Commission was very cooperative in working with our monitoring mission, and no restrictions were placed on the observers' movements throughout the country.

By the time the first group of monitors arrived in Moscow a week before election day, thick media-review booklets were assembled and sent out to the parliamentary observers. In addition, a briefing book was distributed that contained information about the political situation, the government, political parties, leading politicians and party leaders, the newly amended election law and the media. We also received extensive briefings from the Central Elections Commission, political parties and opposition leaders.

The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has assessed all parliamentary elections in Russia since 1993. There was nothing "quick and dirty" with the joint statement by the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Our assessment was critical, but it was based on concrete facts. The once-promising democratic transition has come to a stop in Russia. Perhaps it has even taken a step backward.

Our conclusion was that the elections were "not fair" based on the following main criticisms:

• the widespread use of state resources in favor of one party over the others;

• media bias in favor of United Russia;

• complicated procedures and prohibitively high fees for registering political parties, which made it particularly difficult for smaller parties to run in the elections;

• the reported harassment of opposition parties and movements.

When OSCE observers monitor and assess elections, they use the Copenhagen Document, a 1990 agreement that all OSCE states, including Russia, have agreed to follow. Our main concern about the Russian elections was the merging of the state and a political party, in this case United Russia. We considered this an abuse of power and a clear violation of the Copenhagen commitments, which, in paragraph 5.4, say that there should be "a clear separation between the state and political parties; in particular, political parties will not be merged with the state."

The extensive use of administrative resources and the active role of the head of state, President Vladimir Putin, on behalf of the United Russia, even though he was not officially a party member, violated the OSCE and PACE commitments and standards and turned the parliamentary elections into a referendum on the president.

One of the methods used by authorities was to change the election law to prohibit "negative campaigning" except in debates, which United Russia refused to participate in. This tactic all but ensured that there would be no criticism of United Russia, which could be technically classified as "negative campaigning." A parliamentary election campaign, of course, should be an opportunity for extensive national debate. But in this case, the people were deprived of this opportunity.

In the end, our conclusion on the elections was based on the use of election laws and administrative resources, which had a direct influence on the election results. The political playing field simply was not level. It is my sincere hope that the Russian authorities and public will take our criticism in the intended constructive manner.

Klas Bergman is the director of communications and spokesman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.