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European Monitors Say Russian Election Unfair

By Peter Fedynsky

European Monitors Say Russian Election Unfair

Election monitors from the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe say Sunday's parliamentary balloting in Russia was unfair and failed to meet democratic election standards.

European election monitors told a Moscow news conference that Sunday's parliamentary election was conducted in an atmosphere that seriously limited political competition. OSCE's Parliamentary Assembly President Goran Lennmarker pointed to President Vladimir Putin's campaigning on behalf of the ruling United Russia Party.

"The merging of the state and political parties is an abuse of power and a clear violation of international commitments and standards," he said. "The other point is that the media showed a strong bias in favor of the president and the ruling United Russia Party."

But President Putin says election results speak for themselves.

The Russian leader says the legitimacy of the country's parliament has been increased. He notes that 90 percent of Sunday's vote was cast in favor of parties to be represented in the new parliament as opposed to 70 percent on behalf of victorious parties in the outgoing parliament.

The head of the delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Luc van den Brande, acknowledges voters were free to vote. Nonetheless, he says the election violated the Code of Good Practice for the Council of Europe's 47 member nations.

"There is a very strong commitment that the public authority, first and foremost the presidency, has to be in a neutral position towards party participation in elections, media coverage and financing of parties," he said.

Although he was not a candidate, President Putin's name led United Russia's party list. He also spoke frequently at the organization's rallies, which were aired on media that European monitors said were under almost total state control.

The observers also note reports of opposition harassment, detentions, confiscation of election material, voter threats, and potential misuse of absentee ballots.

The OSCE's main monitoring group, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, declined to observe the election. It said Russian authorities did not issue visas in a timely manner, which made it impossible to judge key pre-election activity in a meaningful way.

Observers from Russia's post-Soviet neighbors in the Commonwealth of Independent States and a Chinese monitor from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization concluded that the Russian election was free and fair.


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