Election observers say poll biased in favour of Putin


INDEPENDENT INTERNATIONAL observers of Russia’s presidential election have concluded the poll was skewed in favour of outgoing prime minister Vladimir Putin.

The observers noted there was bias in the state-controlled media during the election campaign and during the counting of votes on Sunday night into Monday morning.

Mr Putin was deemed yesterday to have obtained a clear victory in Sunday’s poll, securing 64 per cent of the votes cast, according to the election authorities in Russia.

But of the counts observed by representatives of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), one third were deemed to be “bad or very bad”.

The observers concluded there was no “independent referee” on the Russian side to ensure fair play, an obvious criticism of the head of Russian Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov, who is generally regarded by opposition politicians as being extremely biased in favour of Mr Putin.

The heads of different international observation missions, however, differed markedly in the tone of their responses to the election. The OSCE sends two sets of observers to elections and there was a distinct difference in attitude between them on this occasion.

The group from the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly, consisting of short-term observers who are members of national parliaments, was far more forceful in its criticism of the way the vote was run than its sister organisation, from OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) which employs experienced long-term and short-term observers to elections.

While both organisations, together with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, issued a joint statement on the elections, Tonino Picula of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, added his own personal comment.

“There were serious problems from the very start of this election,” he said. “The point of elections is that their outcome should be uncertain. 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.”

Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini of Switzerland who headed the OSCE’s human rights officer mission, was reticent in her answers to questions on the irregularities.

This was unexpected as she had been quite forceful in her views when she led the ODIHR mission to Russia’s Duma elections in December.

Prompted by suggestions from Russian sources that there was a far a greater number of irregularities in Moscow than elsewhere, this correspondent and other journalists sought information from her on this but she consistently avoided answering.

Another important issue in Russian elections has been tampering with a document known as a “protocol”. This is the official result sheet filled in at the end of the count and then sent to the headquarters in Moscow to be entered on the mainframe of the computer in the Central Election Commission.

Asked if there had been difficulties in this area, Ms Tagliavini simply said she did not yet have any information on the issue although observing details of the protocol is one of the most important duties of her observers.

Tiny Kox, the Council of Europe representative, pointed at the shortcomings of the Central Election Commission, “The voters’ choice was limited, electoral competition lacked fairness and an impartial referee was missing,” he said.

On the positive side, Mr Kox pointed to the involvement of Russian citizens, especially the large number who enrolled as observers with local organisations.

“Due to increased citizens’ awareness and involvement, the elections were more lively, better managed and more seriously observed,” he said.