International Monitors Differ on Russian Vote Fairness

International monitors gave different assessments of Russia’s presidential elections that secured Vladimir Putin a third term in the Kremlin.

While observers from former Soviet states hailed the vote as “transparent” and “fair,” their colleagues from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) pointed to mass procedural violations and a clear bias in favor of Putin.

The 59-year-old prime minister won the Sunday polls with almost 64 percent of the vote, leaving four other candidates far behind. His closest rival, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, gathered just over 17 percent, while the rest were even less successful.

Monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of former Soviet republics, were quick to declare that the vote was “transparent, conducted in conditions of fair competition, openness, and in accordance with generally recognized international norms.”

Meanwhile, OSCE and PACE observers said in their preliminary statement on Monday that the vote was marred by limited competition and abuse of state resources, which gave Putin a “clear advantage” to win the race.

Although there was a “clear winner” in the race, the voter’s choice was “limited,” the head of the PACE delegation, Tiny Kox, said during a news conference in Moscow, adding that the presidential campaign “lacked transparency.”

“The point of an election is that the outcome should be uncertain,” said Tonino Picula, who headed the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation. “This was not the case in Russia.”

‘Skewed’ campaign

The observers noted in their statement that “although all contestants were able to campaign unhindered, the conditions for the campaign were clearly skewed in favor of one candidate.”

While all candidates had access to media, the coverage of Putin’s election campaign was much more intensive than those of his competitors, they said.

Putin himself said last night that he had won the race in a “fair and open fight” as he addressed a crowd of his supporters under the Kremlin’s walls shortly after the end of the vote.

The western European observers said, however, that while the voting itself could be accessed “positively overall,” the vote count was flawed by “procedural irregularities.” Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini who headed the OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission said during the news conference that vote count at “one third” of the 98 polling stations visited by the monitors could be accessed as “bad” or “very bad.”

The OSCE/PACE mission involved some 270 monitors, while another 120 observers from countries outside the post-Soviet region worked at polling stations independently. One of the monitors, U.S. attorney Kline Preston, said on Monday that the absolute majority of independent observers rated the elections as “good,” with nine percent going for “acceptable” and one percent denouncing them as “bad.”

Monitors urge investigation into fraud reports

Both the CIS and OSCE/PACE monitors praised the role of Russia’s civil society groups in monitoring the elections. Driven by enthusiasm to prevent a repeat of vote fraud which is alleged to have marred last year’s parliamentary vote, tens of thousands of Russians have volunteered to observe Sunday’s presidential polls.

Tagliavini welcomed steps made by Russia’s authorities to minimize possible violations, including the installation of transparent ballot boxes and web cameras at most of the polling stations. She said, however, that those measures were “insufficient” and that all violations reported during the vote should be “thoroughly investigated.”

Putin said on Monday he would ask Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov to “thoroughly look into all possible violations” reported during the polls.

The Commission said it had received some 180 reports of electoral violations on Sunday. Nevertheless, Churov said the vote was “open and fair” like in no other country. The Interior Ministry also said it had not registered any serious breaches of electoral laws that could affect the results of the vote.

Russia’s largest independent election watchdog Golos, which has been accused by the Kremlin of bias against the government, said some 5,000 people called the organization to report about violations which included many cases of so-called “carousel voting,” in which busloads of voters are driven around to cast ballots multiple times. Those reports cannot be independently verified.

The OSCE and PACE monitors are planning to present their final report on the vote in two months.

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