OSCE to Consider Observing Local Polls in Russia if Moscow Requests

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is ready to send an observer mission to monitor local elections in Russia if Moscow makes such a request, Janez Lenarcic, the director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said in an interview with RIA Novosti.

“We do consider every invitation to observe elections, including invitations to observe local elections,” Lenarcic said, speaking on the sidelines of the 2012 OSCE Security Days conference in Vienna on Monday.

If Russia invites OSCE monitors for the polls scheduled for October, “we will consider such a request very thoroughly and favorably,” he said.

He noted, however, that the OSCE ODIHR has limited resources and therefore prioritizes national elections.

“So we only observe local elections if we are invited and if we have sufficient resources… and if we see that such observation would be useful in the context of the country’s efforts to advance on the way of political reforms,” Lenarcic added.

A few OSCE experts have been invited to advise on local elections in some Russian regions in recent years, but no full-scale monitoring mission has ever been sent to observe local polls in the country.

Lenarcic said his office was “following with interest” the recent political reforms in Russia such as the easing of requirements for registering political parties and the reintroduction of direct governor elections, which he said were “encouraging moves” that were in line with OSCE recommendations.

The list of recommendations is however much larger, and the OSCE hopes that Russia’s authorities would continue cooperating with the organization on implementing these, he added.

Commenting on a new law that dramatically increased fines for violating regulations on public rallies in Russia, Lenarcic stressed that restrictions on freedom of assembly should be in line with “democratic standards” and punishment for those violating public order during rallies should be “proportionate.”

“From this prospective, there is concern that the most recent changes in the Russian Federation have resulted in possible punishments and fines that seem to be disproportionate,” Lenarcic said.

Therefore, he said, “there is a big question whether these recent changes are in line with the principle of proportionality,” and he added: “If a window is broken, you cannot imprison a person for 10 years… Broken windows are better than broken bones.”

The new law, passed by Russia’s parliament in early June, increased fines for violations of public rally regulations from 5,000 rubles (around $150) to 300,000 rubles (around $10,000) for participants and up to 600,000 rubles ($18,000) for organizers.

The bill, which triggered a storm of protests from Russia’s liberals, was introduced after an opposition rally in Moscow on May 6, which ended in protesters clashing with police, and was fast-tracked ahead of an opposition rally that gathered tens of thousands of people in downtown Moscow on June 12 when the country marked Russia Day.

Lenarcic added that that his office was ready to look thoroughly into the new law to provide “comprehensive expert assessment,” should Russia’s authorities make such a request.


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