Observers Detail Flaws in Russian Election

New York Times

5 March 2012

MOSCOW — European election observers issued a harsh critique of the Russian presidential election on Monday, saying that Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin's victory was preordained and unfair, because of overwhelming bias in the television media and the use of government money and resources in support of his campaign.

Mr. Putin, who has already served eight years as president and four years as prime minister, won a new six-year term on Sunday with an official tally of 63.75 percent of the vote. He has already suggested that he might run again in 2018, potentially extending his tenure as Russia's pre-eminent leader to 24 years, on a par with Brezhnev and Stalin.

The observers, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said that the election was heavily tilted in Mr. Putin's favor, and that incidents of voter fraud and other irregularities, which they also found, were not as significant as the overall framework of the campaign, which they said gave opposition candidates little chance.

"The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain," Tonino Picula, a former minister of foreign affairs from Croatia who led one group of observers, said at a news conference. "This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt."

Tiny Kox, a senator from the Netherlands who led another delegation, said, "The conditions of the campaign were clearly skewed in the favor of one candidate."

As they spoke, riot police were already blocking off traffic and setting up barricades for a huge political protest scheduled for Monday evening in central Moscow — the latest in a series of street demonstrations that began in response to widespread voting irregularities in Russia's parliamentary election in December.

In that vote, a number of private citizens used cellphone cameras to document cases of ballot-box stuffing and other electoral fraud. Despite that evidence, the Russian electoral authorities certified the results but took a number of new steps ahead of the presidential race, including spending nearly $450 million to install some 180,000 Web cameras at polling stations.

The chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission, Vladimir Y. Churov, who is an outspoken supporter of Mr. Putin, said that the new technology as well as the use of glass ballot boxes in many polling stations had made Russia a world leader in electoral transparency.

"Web cameras and transparent ballot boxes help organize an open, transparent and honest election, the kind of election that only Russia has had so far," Mr. Churov told the InterFax news agency. But Mr. Churov, who has often adopted a combative posture toward international observers, also accused them Monday of potentially engaging in espionage.

"The international election observation mechanism of certain organizations has transformed into the collection of political or even military-political information," he said. "The number of observer attempts to penetrate into military units, restricted areas or border zones has grown lately."

He added: "Observers have a keen wish for entering border units, nuclear and missile centers and so on. The number of such people is growing."

The political opposition has demanded repeatedly that Mr. Churov resign or be dismissed. But while Mr. Putin has promised some reforms in the electoral process, Mr. Churov has remained.

The election observers said that there were fewer violations in the presidential election than in the parliamentary race, partly as a result of a huge increase in public attention that vastly expanded the number of election observers, especially in Moscow. Still, they said they found evidence of persistent irregularities, generally during the counting of votes and the certification of tallies.

They said that observers rated one-third of the polling stations they visited as "very bad" or "bad" as a result of procedural violations. They also said that the new Web cameras had appeared to be of only limited use in securing the results because many workers at the polling stations did not broadcast the counting or certification process after the polls had closed.

The observers said that a main problem for Russia lay with the Central Election Commission itself. "Without an impartial referee, you cannot play the game we call democracy," Mr. Kox said.

The European observers said that Mr. Putin's challengers — the Communist, Gennady A. Zyuganov; the nationalist, Vladimir V. Zhirinovsky; the leader of the Just Russia Party, Sergei M. Mironov; and the billionaire-without-a-party, Mikhail D. Prokhorov — had been unable to secure a fair amount of television coverage or attention.

Mr. Putin, by contrast, was not only featured on a constant basis on state-controlled television, but he also wrote seven long manifestos outlining his positions on various issues and commandeered the front pages of seven of Russia's most prominent newspapers to publish them, demonstrating his leverage over the print media as well.

With nearly all of the ballots counted, the election commission said Mr. Putin won 63.75 percent of the vote, Mr. Zyuganov had 17.19 percent, Mr. Prokhorov 7.82 percent, Mr. Zhirinovsky 6.23 percent and Mr. Mironov 3.85 percent.

The election commission said that 794,393 ballots were spoiled, a common gesture of protest against all the choices. Turnout over all in the election was just over 65 percent, the commission said.

Congratulations for Mr. Putin flowed into Moscow from various countries, including calls or messages from China, Japan, Azerbaijan, Jordan, Armenia, Tajikistan, Germany, Afghanistan and Belarus.

As of Monday evening in Moscow, however, the United States had yet to comment.

Mr. Putin at various points in the campaign expressed strident anti-American rhetoric, and accused Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, personally, of instigating the street protests against him.

On Sunday, American-Russian relations briefly tensed further, after someone pretending to be the American ambassador, Michael McFaul, posted a message on Twitter saying that the evidence of widespread election fraud would undermine the legitimacy of the vote. Some Russian officials immediately lashed out in response, but Mr. McFaul quickly disavowed the post and Twitter shut the account used to mimic him.

Mrs. Clinton had sharply criticized the Russian parliamentary elections in December, and the American response to the presidential balloting could hinge on the developments in the hours and days ahead. Some members of the opposition movement are pushing for protest action that would go beyond what is allowed by government permits — perhaps including a tent encampment like those seen in some of the Occupy protests in the West. But doing so could draw a more forceful response from the authorities, in contrast to the prior demonstrations which proceeded peacefully if under the watchful gaze of a huge deployment of riot police.



Nat Parry

Head of Communications and Press

Office: +45 33 37 80 55
Mobile: +45 60 10 81 77
Email: [email protected]

  • Facebook
  • twir
  • in
  • inst
  • two
  • video