Observers Criticize 'Managed Elections'

MTVan den Brande and Lennmarker listing their concerns about Sunday's Duma elections for reporters on Monday.
International observers criticized the State Duma elections as unfair and undemocratic and accused the Kremlin of abusing its position to buttress a crushing victory for United Russia.

The Kremlin and the Central Elections Commission roundly rejected the appraisal and accused the observers of having prepared it before the elections even occurred.

"These elections failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have," G?ran Lennmarker, president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said at a packed news conference in the Hotel Savoy in central Moscow.

"If Russia is a managed democracy, then these were managed elections," said Luc van den Brande, the head of a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

A joint declaration issued by the two missions, which had a total of 147 observers working in more than eight regions, listed four chief concerns, starting with United Russia's links to the Kremlin.

"May I say that for us, it is an unprecedented situation that a sitting president is running in an election," van den Brande said.

The other concerns were: media bias in favor of the president; restrictive election laws that make it difficult for small parties to develop and to register new ones; and the reported harassment of opposition parties.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a president's support for a party was "not undemocratic" because it occurs in "many countries" and is not against the law.

"A large part of the observers' evaluation had obviously been prepared ahead of time" because the observers offered no election-day violations and instead focused on November's campaigning, he said.

Igor Fyodorov, a Central Elections Commission member, said the observers' conclusions contained "flat-out lies," without elaborating.

"To come to Russia with a script already written is just unethical," he added.













Foreign Reactions to the vote
German government spokesman Thomas Steg:


"There can be no doubt. Measured by our standards, it was neither a free, fair nor democratic election."


German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier:


"It was clear there would be doubts about how the results were reached. And indeed there have been charges raised that the election did not proceed according to the principles of the OSCE. I expect that Russia will investigate all these charges and will clarify the charges."


Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt:


"The election in Russia hardly offered any surprises. Helped by efforts by national made-to-order TV channels as well as so-called administrative resources, the desired result was probably more or less secured.


"This election campaign was an illustration of what certain ideologies in the Kremlin call 'steered democracy.' The emphasis is on the first part of the concept."


Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis:


"I am concerned about the conclusion of the Council of Europe and OSCE parliamentary observers that the State Duma elections were not fair and failed to meet many of the standards for democratic elections.


"It doesn't come as a surprise, because the shortcomings criticized by the observers, such as media bias and an electoral code which create obstacles in political competition, were known in advance."


Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk:


"We are very much worried by signals that not everywhere were the elections in line with standards of democracy as we understand them in the European Union -- that has to cause concern. However, it seems that the elections confirm the very strong position of the party tied to President Putin, and regardless of reservations ... that nevertheless seems to be the Russians' choice, and I see no reason for us to question that."


Czech Foreign Ministry:


"The circumstances that led to its election will always cast a shadow over the future lineup of the Russian parliament."


Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere:


"The result is a clear expression of support for President Putin and his party. In that way, it can offer stable support for the politics the president has stood for."


Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen:


"This result was a clear show of support for Putin's policies and his United Russia party. Now, the government should have a clear mandate so, of course, we expect that in its relations to both Finland and Europe, and in international questions, Russia feels a positive responsibility."


Source: Reuters



He suggested that the elections commission and foreign observers "should have sat around a table and thought up a set of common rules so that any violations could have been instantly identified and not contested."

Garry Kasparov, the former chess champion turned opposition leader, said the observers had failed to mention even half of the electoral violations. "These are respected European politicians and, unfortunately, diplomatic protocol binds them from telling how it really is," Kasparov said by telephone.

He said the vote was the "dirtiest in Russian history."

Golos, the only independent Russian election monitoring body, said many people had faced pressure from the authorities to vote for United Russia but that it was reserving its findings for a news conference Wednesday.

"We cannot properly evaluate the 2007 elections without analyzing as many polling station violations as possible," said Grigory Melkonyants, Golos' deputy head.

Golos is investigating the veracity of some of the nearly 4,000 calls it received Sunday from voters complaining of violations at polling stations across the country.

The United States, Britain and the European Union threw their weight behind the observers' criticism.

"We urge Russian authorities to investigate these claims" of violations, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.

A British Foreign Office statement said that if the allegations were proven, "it would suggest that the elections were neither free nor fair."

"We saw some violations of basic rights, notably free speech and assembly rights," EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said at a news conference in Berlin.

Britain and the EU expressed disappointment that the OSCE's main election-monitoring body, the Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, had pulled out, citing what it called conjured-up bureaucratic obstacles from Russian authorities.

France, however, departed from the European line. French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Putin to congratulate him on United Russia's victory, Interfax reported, citing the Kremlin press service. French oil major Total recently won the right to help develop the huge Shtokman gas field alongside Gazprom, and the two firms are considering linking up to develop fields in Astrakhan.

Meanwhile, observers from the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States described the elections as free and fair. "All necessary legal and organizational conditions for an open and free election were guaranteed in the Russian elections," said Nauryz Aidarov, head of the CIS observer mission, Interfax reported.

Sergei Mironov, leader of A Just Russia, the year-old pro-Kremlin party that won Duma seats in the elections, called the international observers' criticism "nonobjective."

Those who criticize the elections and cite a lack of democracy "want everything to be as they want it to be," Mironov, the Federation Council speaker, said at a news conference. "But they will not get their way. Everything will be as we want it to be."