Cablegate: Ambassador's Introductory Meeting with Central

DE RUEHMO #3012/01 1720817
P 210817Z JUN 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 003012



E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/20/2017


1. (C) A very self-confident Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairman Vladimir Churov sketched for the Ambassador at their inaugural meeting June 19 an electoral process fully controlled by a CEC responsive to complaints of voters and working constructively with all active political parties. The presence of foreign election observers during the December Duma elections was under discussion said Churov, but in any event there would be many active domestic, party-connected observers at the polls. Churov believed there would be no further changes to electoral legislation before the March 2008 presidential elections. He thought that parties had ready access to the media, but that the coverage they got was commensurate with the amount of activity they engaged in. He described himself as ambushed by a June 15 Federal Anti-Monopoly Service announcement that seemed to ban political ads on billboards. He would meet with the Anti-Monopoly Commission Chairman soon to resolve the problem. End summary.
Chairman Self-Confident
2. (C) A relaxed, confident Central Election Chairman (CEC) Vladimir Churov offered the Ambassador on June 19 an extended monologue on the state of his agency's preparation for the December Duma elections. Churov used no notes and did not consult with aides attending the meeting with him during the one-hour meeting. He made numerous references to his previous experience in election-related matters, notably as a monitor of elections in Ukraine and Central Asia, and he made it clear that the CEC would prefer to manage the election process with no assistance from abroad.
Work with Political Parties
3. (C) Churov noted that the December contest would be the fifth cycle of elections since Russia's 1991 "revolution." Distinguishing this round from its predecessors would be the all-important role played by political parties. The December elections would be Russia's first encounter with a party list-only system, and Churov thought that would speed the further development of political parties.
4. (C) Among the problems faced by the CEC, said Churov, was the need to update voting lists. He estimated that 15 - 19 percent of voters were incorrectly listed, and told the Ambassador that the CEC would correct the voter lists before the December vote.
5. (C) The CEC met regularly with representatives of the seventeen registered political parties, and had conducted outreach with youth organizations as well. Churov had lobbied the parties for "honorable" conduct. He was pleased to note that there had been no problems to date, and had cautioned the parties that dirty campaign tactics would only reduce voter turnout. He predicted that the CEC would be fully prepared for the Duma contest by August 1, one month before the announcement of the beginning of the official election campaign.
6. (C) Churov told the Ambassador that the CEC would be fully transparent for outsiders. On August 14, the CEC would hold a one-day seminar on the upcoming elections to which the media and diplomatic representatives would be invited. The CEC's methodological literature was available to all interested parties; over three million copies had been printed. In order to ensure that the conduct of the elections went smoothly, Churov joked that he would deploy an "army (of pollworkers) larger than that of (Minister of Defense) Serdyukov."
7. (C) Although he promised the process would be transparent to outsiders, Churov was unenthusiastic about the prospect of ODIHR monitoring of the elections. The CEC, he said in response to a question from the Ambassador, was "discussing" the question, and would, in the end, abide by Russian law and its international obligations in accepting foreign monitors.
8. (C) With the approach of the elections, all parties were becoming more active and were receiving greater media attention. Churov believed that the Union of Right Forces (SPS) and the Communist Party (KPRF) were receiving more MOSCOW 00003012 002 OF 002 coverage than were United Russia, For A Just Russia, or the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). In one of his meetings, Churov had admonished party representatives to be active. Media exposure, he claimed, was not a right, but the by-product of efforts to engage with the population.
9. (C) Churov said that the CEC would work constructively with all parties registered by the Federal Registration Service (FRS). He hoped that the complicated system, that has the FRS, the Tax Inspectorate, and sometimes the courts involved, would produce a clear list of contending parties by the September 1 start of the campaign.
10. (C) Churov tipped his hat to Europe and the United States in noting that polling places this year would be equipped with Braille instructions and, where necessary, would be wheelchair accessible. Cooperation with international organizations was important, Churov stressed, especially with professional colleagues. He mentioned with pleasure twice during the meeting his work with former U.S. senators and congressmen, and noted that his CEC was staffed with former Russian Duma deputies and one Federation Council representative. Later in the conversation, he offered that Russia needs "colleagues, not controllers."
11. (C) In response to a question from the Ambassador, Churov regretted that voter registration cards would not be put into play during this election cycle, as there was no legal provision for it. The election commissions would make greater use of an "invitation system" this time around, however. Churov thought that voters would be informed of the elections twenty days and "invited" three days in advance of the December 2 election date to vote.
12. (C) Churov said there would be no changes in the election law until after the March presidential elections. He cited approvingly Belarus and Moldova's "stable" electoral systems as models for Russia to follow. Adjustments to the electoral systems of Ukraine had done little to nurture stability there, Churov thought.
13. (C) "Observers are the voters' best friend," Churov said, and he predicted a very large number of domestic political party observers, who would have access to the same information as poll workers, would be at the polls on election day. He hoped that most complaints could be corrected as they arose during the campaign. The federal hotline would be key to the CEC's effort, and Churov praised its use during the April Krasnoyarsk elections. At several points in the conversation, Churov indicated that court cases would be seen by him as evidence that the electoral system had not worked properly.
14. (C) In response to a question from the Ambassador, Churov described himself as "surprised" by the June 15 Federal Anti-Monopoly Service announcement that billboard political advertising would violate the law on advertising. A CEC representative had telephoned each of the registered parties and urged them to continue with their plans to advertise while the problem was resolved. Churov expected he would meet with the Anti-Monopoly Service Chairman very soon, and that the ban would be lifted.
15. (C) A very self-confident Churov referred frequently to his experience in monitoring elections and his familiarity with statistics during his conversation with the Ambassador. The Chairman was proud of his efforts, when in St. Petersburg, to help the USG investigate the history of famous Americans whose fates were tied to Russia, and he recommended to the Ambassador an article he had written noting the contributions of Russians to the development of the United States. Churov's careful answer to the Ambassador's question about the possible presence of ODIHR election monitors suggests, as did a Rossiiskaya Gazeta article written by Churov soon after becoming Chairman, that he personally would prefer minimal foreign involvement in a process that he believes is already ably administered by him and his colleagues at the CEC, but that he ultimately understands the importance of Russia's OSCE commitments.

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