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PACE pre-electoral delegation told of urgent need for a fair election

Moscow, 11.02.2012 – Russia on the eve of its Presidential election remains a nation poised between hope and fear, where much is possible but nothing is yet sure, according to a pre-electoral delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), concluding a four-day visit to Moscow.

The five-member delegation, in Moscow from 8 to 11 February 2012, met four of the five candidates: Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov, Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Guennady Zyuganov. All stressed the urgent need to meet widespread popular demands for a fair election, in order to guarantee public confidence in the result, and put forward detailed – though differing – programmes for achieving this.

Candidates pointed to the recent major peaceful rallies in Moscow and elsewhere in the country as a wake-up call for change, as well as vibrant online debate and greater grassroots activism, which some described as a revival of real politics in Russia.

All welcomed President Medvedev’s significant proposals to simplify the registration of political parties and presidential candidates. However, it was noted that the proposed changes would only enter into force after this presidential election. The delegation was told by the Speaker of the State Duma that the draft laws implementing these and other changes should have their first hearing in the State Duma on 28 February. Some candidates called for deeper electoral reform, for example to achieve more balanced and independent electoral committees.

The head of the Central Election Commission informed the delegation about the installation of webcams in all polling stations, transparent ballot boxes, and the need for simplified procedures and the ongoing replacement of many heads of electoral commissions. Some candidates expressed concern that this last step could be politically motivated, however. The candidates met by the delegation also complained about the continuing use of administrative resources by the candidate who is now Prime Minister, as well as a biased media, and declared their loss of confidence in the electoral administration.

Many interlocutors emphasised the crucial role of candidates’ observers in guaranteeing transparency on voting day, especially as Russian law does not foresee NGO observers. They called for changes to ensure that violations seen at the recent parliamentary elections, such as expulsion of observers or restrictions on their work, do not recur.

Most interlocutors acknowledged an improved media environment, including television debates between the candidates. However, all candidates met by the delegation felt that extensive coverage of the Prime Minister’s official activities during the campaign period left them at a significant disadvantage.

The delegation met all the presidential candidates, with the exception of Mr Vladimir Putin, as well as the Speaker of the State Duma, Mr Sergey Naryshkin, the Chair of the Central Election Commission, Mr Vladimir Churov, the Human Rights Ombudsman, Mr Vladimir Lukin, members of the Russian delegation to PACE, Ms Heidi Tagliavini, Head of the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission and members of the diplomatic corps. It also met a representative of Grigory Yavlinsky, whose candidacy was not registered, as well as representatives of media and NGOs. The delegation wishes to thank the State Duma for its excellent co-operation during the visit. A full 30-member delegation from the Assembly will return to the country to observe the voting on 4 March before making a final assessment.

Contact: Angus Macdonald, PACE Communication Division
Mobiles: +79150765726 or +33 (0)6 30 49 68 20