According to the Electoral Law of the Russian Federation, observers may be invited only for parliamentary (State Duma) and presidential elections. Therefore, on all other electoral levels, the foreign citizens may be present only as “electoral experts”. The status of “international expert” is however similar to that of “international observer”, as an expert may observe the electoral process within a short-term mission, being present at the polling-stations, also by the vote counting.
As for legal basis and its practical use, the Mission of European Center of Geopolitical Analysis has been invited to form an expert mission by its Russian partner – NGO “For Democracy and People’s Rights”, a member of NGOs Association “Civic Control”. The members of the Mission have been admitted full access to all institutions which were preparing and participating in the electoral process. They could also discuss all the problems of electoral campaign and electoral procedures with the Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation, as well as with regional electoral commissions’ heads and members of staff.
Therefore, the Mission of ECGA estimates the level of openness and transparency very high, paying a great deal of respects to all the electoral authorities which had been helpful in convening the mission and fulfilling its goals.
Aims of the expert mission
The main aims of the expert Mission for the regional elections in Russian Federation, 13th March 2011 have been as follows:
1) An analysis of practical use of new electoral technologies by the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation;
2) An analysis of civic and citizens’ political rights in Russian Federation;
3) Exchange of views and ideas with Russian counterparts;
4) Monitoring the development of party system and democratic institutions before the December 2011 election to State Duma.
The expert Mission consisted of the citizens of the European Union countries, including Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Germany, Austria, Italy and Poland. Among the participants there have been political theorists and experts as well as party leaders and members of parliaments with sufficient political experience in election campaigning.
The Mission consisted of Members of European Parliament (2), members of national and regional parliaments (5), journalists (2), political scientists and experts (3).
Methods of expert analysis
The Mission has been organized according to the rules and principles of short-term election monitoring, as outlined by Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and European Union (EU). The mission has worked on the day of voting from the opening of polling stations to the closing of polling stations.
Methods used to evaluate the electoral process included:
1) Visiting polling stations;
2) Visiting electoral commissions of regional and territorial level;
3) Meetings and interviews with political parties and candidates participating in the elections;
4) Expert debates with the representatives of NGOs and researchers.
The Mission has met no obstacles in fulfilling its duties.
Regions monitored by the mission
The members of the Mission have travelled for election monitoring to the following regions:
1) Orenburg oblast;
2) Tver oblast;
3) Komi Republic;
4) Kirov oblast.
The members of the Mission have been assisted by the regional representatives of “Civic Control” Association.
Results of the mission
The Mission came to several general conclusions which have been already publicly expressed during the meetings in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federations and with partner NGOs from the Russian Federation. Conclusions include:
1) High estimation of the level of professionalism of all electoral bodies which had been involved in preparing the electoral process. Particularly high has been the lever of openness and readiness for cooperation of the Central Electoral Commission of the Russian Federation, which had guaranteed all the conditions for conducting the mission, as well as had given a detailed information about rules, procedures and methodology to the participants.
2) Very high estimation of the civic activism during the electoral process, resulting from a high level of development of non-governmental bodies and civil society institutions.
3) Lack of any serious electoral law violations, which could influence the election results. The information gathered by the Mission proves that there had been no any cases of violations or abuses on the election day in the regions monitored. All the gathered material proves that the election day and voting has passed in accordance with international standards and regulations and no recommendations or doubts about fairness could be made.
4) The widespread use of IT technologies for the voting procedures. The monitored technologies included web-cameras on polling stations and electronic ballot boxes. The cameras (present in Komi Republic at three experimental voting stations) appeared not to disturb or to be noticed by the voters. The direct transmission to regional electoral commission enabled the electoral authorities to guarantee the transparency and safety of the process. The web-cameras may be used in the future, as far as their technical data and positioning guarantee the secret ballot principle. The electronic ballot boxes (KOIBs) have manuals that are easy enough to be understood by the majority of voters. However, the cases of breakdowns have been noticed and this leads to conclusion that the technology could be further improved to avoid such problems.
5) The interviewed candidates and political parties’ representatives argued that the electoral campaign had been conducted with a widespread use of the so-called black PR technologies. The abuse of such methods could not be proved due to short-term character of the Mission. However, the participants conclude that black PR is commonly used in most of democratic party systems, and to avoid it one would have to educate citizens and journalists, so that they would not focus their attention on “dirty campaigning”. The further evaluation of the significance and presence of such campaigning methods in the Russian Federation could be completed only within long-term observation mission.
6) The electoral turnout in Russian Federation occurred to be definitely higher than in most EU countries. The additional incentives to make the turnout higher (although no thresholds exist) made by civil society institutions came to be efficient enough.
The Mission would like to stress that ECGA and its collaborators are ready to conduct further monitoring missions in Russian Federation. The NGO “For Democracy and People’s Rights”, and NGOs Association “Civic Control” are reliable and significant partners for independent election observers. Unbiased monitoring of parliamentary and presidential elections in Russian Federation could strengthen and develop the close cooperation even further.