Election observer attacks Russian poll rules

A senior member of Europe’s main human rights body launched an outspoken attack on the Russian Federation’s elections on Friday, three weeks before they take place, saying he had serious doubts that they would be free, fair, open, democratic or transparent.

Luc van den Brande, who is leading a team of election observers from the Council of Europe, said that he was concerned by recent Kremlin changes to the electoral system — and by the fact that the ruling party had almost complete control over television coverage.

”We were repeatedly informed by our interlocutors that the ruling party almost fully controls the airwaves. This is of course contrary to the positioning and the possibilities of the parliamentary and democratic opposition,” he told a news conference in Moscow.

Van den Brande was perturbed that the Kremlin had changed the threshold for entering Parliament from 5% to 7% — one of the highest in Europe. He also criticised the ”rather complicated” registration process.

Only 11 out of 85 parties that wanted to stand in the December 2 poll had been allowed to do so, he said, with almost all of Russia’s democratic opposition kept off the ballot paper.

His comments coincide with a complaint from a leading opposition party, the Union of Right Forces, which alleged that the government was behind a hacker attack on its website and a seizure by police of millions of copies of its newspaper.

The Kremlin has already indicated that international observers are not welcome at next month’s poll. Russia has invited only 300 international observers, Van den Brande said, compared with the 1 163 who attended in 2003.

”Our position is that it isn’t enough,” he said. ”We are concerned that the limitation on the observers is not the right way to show that the elections are transparent, open, and democratic.”

Van den Brande is the head of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly. Several Western institutions, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Europe’s main democracy watchdog, have also criticised Russia’s decision to slash dramatically the number of international observers.

But Russia’s election chief, Vladimir Churov, shrugged off Western concerns. ”Tell me where in any international or internal [Russian] document it is written that the legitimacy of the elections depends on the number of international observers,” he said on Tuesday. — Guardian Unlimited Â

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