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PACE post-electoral delegation in Russia: political reform should continue to increase citizens’ trust

Strasbourg, 13.04.2012 – A delegation (1) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), ending a three-day post-electoral visit to Moscow, has welcomed recent political initiatives to improve the electoral process in the Russian Federation to increase citizens' trust in the electoral process and its outcome. Electoral reform should be substantial and sustainable and be accompanied by broad political dialogue between government, parliament, non-parliamentary parties and civil society to increase public confidence.

The presidential elections of March 4 had a clear winner but the electoral process lacked broad citizens’ trust. According to some opinion polls, almost half of the voters did not consider these elections fair, although a majority is now more or less satisfied with the result as such. Most parties accepted the outcome, except for the Communist Party and some extra-parliamentary parties. Many interlocutors suspected substantial manipulation of votes, but that would be hard to prove due to the lack of a truly impartial referee in the electoral process. Abuse of administrative resources and biased media coverage in favour of one candidate were mentioned on the negative side of the process. On the positive side were mentioned improved media access, more political debate, broad respect for the freedom of assembly and more transparency on election day through webcams, transparent ballot boxes, electronic voting machines and more active domestic observers than ever.

The Central Election Commission recognised that a considerable number of polling stations did not follow the protocol properly during the counting of the votes. Longer terms in office and more training were needed. It considered the functioning of webcams as a clear success and disputed the assessment of the International Election Observation Mission, in which PACE participated, of biased media coverage.

A new law to modify and simplify the registration of political parties and a draft law to improve the functioning of election commissions are necessary steps to meet popular demands for fair elections, the delegation heard. Peaceful rallies during the presidential election campaign, vibrant online debate and greater involvement in election observation had clearly highlighted this demand, the delegation was told. It is to be seen whether and to what extent this greater public involvement will continue, interlocutors said.

In order to increase public confidence in future elections, further legal reforms are much needed: far-reaching modification and simplification of the rules on candidates in presidential elections, direct elections of governors, and the creation of an independent public broadcast channel. Implementation of last month’s recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission concerning the laws on political parties, on the election of Duma deputies and on assemblies, demonstrations and marches would also improve the electoral process.

This delegation stressed that the Parliamentary Assembly was keen to assist Russia as much as possible in carrying out electoral and other political reforms. It recalled that since 1993 the Assembly has observed all parliamentary and presidential elections in the Russian Federation, and has carried out six election-related visits to the country in the last six months. Regular dialogue also continues within the framework of the Assembly’s monitoring procedure.

The delegation met with the Speaker of the State Duma, the leaderships of State Duma parliamentary factions and some other political parties, members of the Russian PACE delegation, the Chair of the CEC, NGOs, media representatives and European diplomats in Moscow.

The Parliamentary Assembly is due to discuss Russia's presidential elections on 23 April in Strasbourg during its Spring session.

(1) Members of the delegation: Tiny Kox (Netherlands, UEL), head of delegation; Egidijus Vareikis (Lithuania, EPP/CD); Tadeusz Iwiński (Poland, SOC); Øyvind Vaksdal (Norway, EDG); Andrea Rigoni (Italy, ALDE); Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), monitoring co-rapporteur.