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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Missed Opportunity

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An election should not be an opportunity for a state to increase its power, nor should it be a special operation for social engineering.

Elections are a long and multidimensional process. They are a two-way dialogue between the government and its citizens about experiences and expectations, interests and hopes. The purpose of an election is to determine who -- whether it be the president, the prime minister, the mayor or a parliamentary deputy --may best represent the interests of the majority of citizens.

To be democratic, this process must be inclusive. This means that all citizens who care about their society and their future have to be able to express their points of view, their evaluation of the past and their expectations for the future. They must also have the right to organize opposition candidates and campaigns.

To be free and fair, elections require rules, which each government codifies in its constitution and laws. Those European states that, like the Russian Federation, are members of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, adhere to the principles and guidelines presented in the Copenhagen Criteria. These documents show how a free and fair election process should be organized.

In this political and electoral context, freedom means much more than a limited choice; it means that citizens can organize themselves to act, directly or indirectly, by voting for other groups and parties with similar interests and values. Fairness means that all those who compete in elections have equal opportunity to express their views and propositions to voters in the media and in other forums.

The heart of free and fair elections lies in discussion, debate and the exchange of different opinions among competitors. The more discussion, the greater the opportunity for voters to make up their minds and for candidates to learn how best to serve the nation.

One of the most valuable benefits of free and fair elections is that the people, by participating in this democratic process, give political legitimacy to their leaders. One way to determine the legitimacy of a candidate's victory is to look at the reactions of the losing candidates.

When the elections have been free and fair, the losers usually concede defeat. A little time may be necessary to digest political errors and wrong assumptions, but eventually the unsuccessful candidates come to accept their loss -- especially because they know that in a democracy, they will have another fair chance to run again.

In any democracy, the dignity of the people is a core, universal value, although the precise way a government expresses this dignity may differ among countries as a reflection of diverse cultures, traditions and geography.

While Switzerland and Russia may be very different, I am sure that most Swiss and most Russians want to be free and to live in a democracy that respects their dignity.

The same is true of the people who live in the 47 countries of the Council of Europe. That is why the observers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded their election observation with this statement: "The results of the presidential election held on March 2 are a reflection of the will of a people whose democratic potential was, unfortunately, not tapped."

Andreas Gross, a member of Switzerland's parliament, is the chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's delegation that observed the Russian presidential election.