Watchdog Sees 'Crisis' In Elections

VIENNA -- Illegal state interference means elections standards are in crisis in areas of Europe, the director of a European election watchdog said.

Christian Strohal, head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, did not criticize any countries by name. Diplomats said he was alluding mainly to Russia and several other former Soviet republics regarded by the West to be backsliding from post-communist commitments to democracy and human rights.

"What we have is a crisis of compliance with election standards in some countries," Strohal said in a speech to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's 56-nation parliamentary assembly at the end of five years as head of ODIHR.

Many nations boast better legal frameworks and professional election bodies than when he took office in 2003, he said.

"But these positive steps are too often devalued by illegal state interference -- governments that prevent opposition forces from registering candidates, clamp down on independent media or even resort to blatant falsification of election results," he said.

ODIHR declined to monitor State Duma elections in December and the presidential vote in March because of what it called unacceptable restrictions imposed by the Kremlin.

Russia denied the accusations and called the ODIHR a tool of Western powers trying to interfere in its affairs.