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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poll Body Restricts OSCE Delegation

Itar-TassVolodin selecting the ball that gave United Russia the 10th spot on the ballot.
The Central Elections Commission has limited the size and term of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's observer mission for the upcoming State Duma elections in an official invitation signed by commission chief Vladimir Churov.

The conditions sparked an unusually angry reaction Wednesday from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

"The invitation is unprecedented, as it puts restrictions on the scope of the observation mission," the office's spokeswoman, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, said by telephone from Warsaw. She said the invitation was for only 70 persons "to take part in a short-term observation."

"We have never before received an invitation with restrictions," Gunnarsdottir said.

The OSCE sent 400 short-term and 50 long-term observers for the 2003 elections, which it labeled a step backward in the country's transition to democracy.

Commission member Igor Borisov suggested that allowing more observers would be unfair to Russia, which itself is one of the 56 members of the OSCE.

"We were never radicals and will never deviate from the numbers of observers common for civilized states, which is somewhere between 300 and 400," Borisov said, Interfax reported.

Rights groups say the number, which also includes observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and other international bodies, is insufficient to monitor 95,000 polling stations.

"This is not monitoring, but presenting the impression that international observers are allowed in," Lilia Shibanova, head of Golos, a group of nongovernmental organizations tracking elections, said Wednesday.

But Borisov said the numbers were enough to ensure adequate monitoring.

He also said a month was enough time for observers to prepare, dismissing criticism that the invitations had been issued too late. The OSCE received the invitation for the December 2003 vote by mid-September.

There was also criticism from NGOs of campaign rule violations by United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party that holds a majority in the current Duma.

Yelena Panfilova, head of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International's Moscow office said campaigning among students and in hospitals, as well as a lack of transparency in campaign funding, were just some examples.

Shibanova said state officials were calling on people to vote for United Russia and that her organization was increasingly being pressured by the authorities. She said the Federal Security Service had begun holding regular "consultations" with members at the group's regional branches and she thought "this pressure would only grow."

The FSB was unable to comment immediately Wednesday.

The difficulties for international monitors were also criticized by the Green party in the European Parliament.

"This clearly is an attempt to de-legitimize the election observers' mission, party faction co-head Daniel Cohn-Bendit told reporters Wednesday in Moscow.