Doc. 8693
3 April 2000

Ad hoc Committee to observe the Russian presidential election (26 March 2000)

Report

Bureau of the Assembly

Rapporteur: Mr Andreas Gross, Switzerland, Socialist Group


1.       The Parliamentary Assembly was invited to observe the Russian presidential election by the Speaker of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Mr Seleznev, in his letter of 6 March 2000.

2.       Upon proposals by the political groups, the Bureau of the Assembly set up an Ad hoc committee with the following membership:

- Mr von der Esch, chairman (Sweden, EPP/CD) – Moscow

- Mr Gross, rapporteur (Switzerland, Soc) – St. Petersburg

- Mr Akçali (Turkey, EDG) – Moscow

- Mrs Akgönenç (Turkey, EDG) – Moscow

- Mr Christodoulides (Cyprus, UEL) – Moscow

- Mr Frey (Switzerland, LDR) – Kursk

- Mrs Guirado (Spain, Soc) – Moscow

- Mr Laakso (Finland, UEL) – St. Petersburg

- Mrs Ojuland (Estonia, LDR) – Moscow

- Mr Pavlov (Bulgaria, EPP/CD) – Moscow

- Mrs Pulgar (Spain, EPP/CD) – St. Petersburg

- Mr Soendergaard (Denmark, UEL) – Moscow

- Mr Timmermans (Netherlands, Soc) – Moscow.

Secretariat: Mr Dufour, Ms Ramanauskaite, Mr Guglielmi, Ms Karapetyan.

3.       The Ad hoc committee split into three groups, which observed the elections respectively in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kursk. Its programme appears in Appendix I.

4.       The day following the election, the Ad hoc committee published, together with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR (Office for democratic institutions and human rights) a press release, which is reproduced in Appendix II.

5.       In this report we shall examine in turn:

- the political environment of the election

- the electoral law

- the electoral campaign

- the polling process

- the results of the election.

I.       The political environment of the election

6.       The parliamentary elections on 19 December 1999 were seen by many observers as a run-up to the presidential election (see Doc. 8623).

7.       They resulted in an unexpected success for the "Unity" movement, backed by the acting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which finished second on the federal list ballot, less than 1% behind the Communist party.

8.       As for the union of Fatherland (Luzhkov) and All Russia (Primakov), it ultimately drew only 13,33% of the federal list vote. This as well as the more and more hegemonic attitude of Mr Putin in the political class might partially explain the renouncement of Mr Luzhkov, the influential mayor of Moscow, and Mr Primakov, a former Prime Minister, from the list of presidential contenders.

9.       On the eve of New Year 2000 President Yeltsin resigned and V. Putin became the acting President, with almost total control over the Government and the Duma, wide popular support and growing indication of the West accepting him in spite of reservations regarding the war in Chechnya. These factors provided him with a favourable environment to realise his presidential ambitions.

10.       The Central Election Commission (CEC) registered 12 candidates and, after Mr Savostyanov's withdrawal in favour of Mr Yavlinsky, 11 remained on the ballot by election day.

II.        The electoral law

11.       According to the Russian Constitution (art. 92,2), "presidential elections shall be held before the expiration of three months from the date of the early termination of presidential office". Since President Yeltsin resigned on 31 December 1999, the CEC fixed the date of the third presidential election in the Russian Federation on 26 March 2000.

12.       A federal law adopted in December 1999 provides for the election of the President of the Russian Federation.

13.       According to the law, the election of the President is conducted in one federal electoral district comprising the entire territory of the Russian Federation.

14.       If no candidate wins an absolute majority in the ballot, the law foresees a repeat voting on the two candidates who polled the maximum number of votes.

15.       Should this circumstance have occurred in the March 2000 election, the repeat voting would have been scheduled for 16 April.

16.       According to article 72,4 of the law, the election is declared not to have taken place if less than half of the voters included in the official lists take part in the ballot. In this case, a repeat election is to be held no later than four months after the day of the initial election or no later than three months after the day on which the election was declared not to have taken place.

17.       The presidential election is prepared and conducted by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation (CEC).

18.       Among other powers, the CEC has the competence to register candidates and to ensure that the conditions of campaigning established by law are respected for all candidates.

19.       Equal conditions of access to the mass media shall be guaranteed to all candidates for election campaigning. Under the law, each candidate is provided with 80 minutes of free nationwide television and radio air time, half of which must be used for debates. Candidates may also buy air time on both private and state-run networks.

20.       As far as the financing of the election is concerned, the law provides that expenditures for the preparation and funding of the election are borne by federal budget funds. Moreover, candidates are obliged to set up their own electoral funds for financing their campaign.

III.       The electoral campaign

21.       The campaign for the Duma elections of December 1999 was described as neither fair, clean nor honest.

22.       Three main factors seem to have influenced the electoral campaign for the presidential election: the conflict in Chechnya, the role of the Governors and the media.

1.       The conflict in Chechnya

23.       As for the Duma elections of December 1999, the war in Chechnya was not a major issue in the electoral campaign, since most candidates, with the exception of Mr Yavlinsky, were in favour of the military intervention decided by V. Putin.

24.       The conflict described by the Kremlin as an anti-terrorist operation seems to have had the overall support of the population seeking stability, relief from deteriorating social and economic conditions and a kind of new national self-esteem and pride. The beneficiary of this conscious and unconscious collective need was clearly V. Putin.

2.       The role of the Governors

25.       Bowing to the inevitable, a growing number of regional governors gradually joined the Putin bandwagon during the electoral campaign, including Yu. Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow.

26.       In this context, the International Election Observation Mission underlines in its preliminary findings its worries concerning "the involvement of regional administration personnel in campaign activities. In some regions, campaign material for one candidate was distributed to Territorial Election Commissions at the same time as election materials such as ballots and protocols. Senior staff of state and regional executives, including deputies to Governors, on leave of absence from their official positions served in large numbers as volunteers in the acting President's campaign organisation. While this may be in conformity with the letter of the law, inevitably the spirit of the law may be violated through the intermingling of campaign activities and improper influence that these officials on leave may continue to exercise. In addition, such practice raises concern about potential abuses where subordinate State employees may feel compelled to 'volunteer'".

3.       The media in the electoral campaign

27.       In its report on the State Duma elections on 19 December 1999, the Assembly noted that "the electoral campaign in the Russian media appeared to have been utterly unfair" and qualified "as often crossing the line to slander and libel".

28.       The media environment for the presidential election was different. For this campaign, the Ministry of Interior received broad responsibilities to monitor the media for violations of campaign rules.

29.       The media were also threatened with sanctions for publishing or broadcasting critical or slanderous material against the administration.

30.       As a consequence, the electoral campaign for the presidential election was considerably less negative and slanderous than for the Duma elections until a few days before polling. However, as it appeared that the ratings of the Yabloko leader, Mr Yavlinsky, in opinion polls started to rise sharply, the semi-state owned TV channel ORT launched a most slanderous campaign against his image. Other networks nearly ignored candidates who did not seem to fulfil interests of the owners.

31.       There was also evidence of "paid journalism".

32.       Although the media remain pluralistic in the Russian Federation, they are more and more dominated by politically influential owners, particularly television channels which play a key role as the public's main source of information. One of the main independent broadcasters, NTV, was subject to increasing financial pressure during the electoral campaign and was threatened with loosing privileges on government nation-wide transmitters.

33.       On the day candidates were officially allowed to launch their television spots, V. Putin's campaign press service announced that the acting President decided not to use the free radio and television time provided to all candidates and that he would not participate in the series of TV debates with other candidates.

34.       It was explained that this decision was made in the light of the necessity to create equal conditions for all candidates, acknowledging that V. Putin had already adequate coverage on the media as acting President.

35.       However, a number of other candidates explained his decision not to campaign as a refusal to clarify his position on various issues that he probably wanted to keep vague.

36.       Whatever the case, any observer could easily witness Mr Putin's quasi-permanent appearance on TV screens during the campaign, including a football match on the eve of polling day.

37.       Taking into account the nearly total domination of television in the campaign strategy of all candidates, it becomes clear that in such an immense country the unequal access to television was one of the main reasons for a degree of unfairness of the campaign.

IV.        The polling process

38.       On 26 March, polling stations were opened from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm.

39.       The Assembly delegation visited more than 100 polling stations in the Moscow area, St. Petersburg, remote villages in the countryside 100 km north of St. Petersburg, and Kursk. However, even though the possibility existed, it decided not to deploy observers to Chechnya or the neighbouring regions; the reasons are underlined in the attached press release.

40.       Tribute should be paid to the Central Election Commission and its subordinate electoral commissions for the serious and dedicated manner in which they carried out their responsibilities. It has to be noted that most of the officials in polling stations were women. In a lot of polling stations it was only women who assumed responsibility for the correctness of the polling process.

41.       However, the delegation continues to be concerned with the membership of precinct election commissions: they are still often appointed by dominant local firms or institutions. This is a traditional practice in Russia which has been time and again criticised by the Parliamentary Assembly, and which will undoubtedly have to be improved in order to better guarantee the commissions' impartiality.

42.       The same remark applies to the territorial election commissions, half of the membership of which depends on the governor's choice, the other half on the regional Duma, as was the case in Kursk.

43.       Moreover, in the 100-odd polling stations visited by the members of the delegation, they noted a number of shortcomings which deserve due attention by the authorities concerned:

. secrecy of the vote: although the electoral law requires that conditions guaranteeing such secrecy have to be provided, in many polling stations the new equipment installed – tables surrounded by insufficiently high partitions – does not allow the necessary privacy for voters when marking their ballot papers; in Kursk, however, progress could be noticed in the quality of voting booths since the visit of the Assembly's observers for the December 1999 Duma elections;

. family voting is still common practice;

. ballot boxes are sometimes out of sight of polling station officials and barely looked after;

. electronic voting in some polling stations was not accepted by all voters.

44.       It has to be noted that two observers of the delegation were refused access to a polling station in Krasnozhamensk, in the Moscow region.

45.       Finally the delegation was somewhat surprised at the sudden increase of the participation rate, which, according to the CEC, increased from 46,3% at 6.00 pm on polling day to 54% an hour later.

46.       In view of that, the delegation considered that close observation of the electronic transmission of election results should be made in future.

V.       The results of the election

47.       The main issue at stake was whether the participation rate would be over 50% of the voters – otherwise the election would not be valid – and whether the main candidate would pass the 50% barrier in order to be elected as from the first round.

48.       Finally the turn-out on polling day was 69% and the election results were as follows:

49.       Clearly, V. Putin was elected President of the Russian Federation. However, the Communist party announced that if would double-check the election results on the basis of electoral commissions' protocols.

VI.       Conclusion

50.       The Council of Europe delegation, composed of 13 members of the Parliamentary Assembly belonging to five different political groups, visited on 26 March 2000 some 100 polling stations in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Kursk. For a number of reasons, it did not deploy observers to Chechnya or the neighbouring regions.

51.       First of all, the delegation commends the Central Election Commission and its subordinate electoral commissions for the work done in order to administer the polling in this vast country and its more than 93 000 polling stations.

52.       The Russian population has been given the political freedom to elect its President and it has shown its determination to use it.

53.       The 26 March 2000 election of the President marks further progress for the consolidation of democratic elections in the Russian Federation.

54.       As for the electoral campaign, it appeared to be less negative and slanderous than the campaign for the December 1999 Duma elections. However, the delegation observed that independent media have come under increasing pressure and that media in general, be they State-owned or private, failed to a large extent to provide impartial information about the election campaign and candidates.

55.       Moreover, the delegation noticed a number of shortcomings in the polling process, which should be improved for forthcoming elections, in particular in the following areas:

. interference of regional authorities in the election process;

. secrecy of the vote;

. family voting;

. security of ballot boxes.

56.       Finally, the acting President, V. Putin, was elected President of the Russian Federation in the first round of election, with 52.64% of the votes. We wish him well.

57.       Thus we conclude that the election on polling day was free; the results should be understood as the free will of the Russian people, although the campaign cannot be considered to have been as fair as we would have liked to see it happen.

Appendix I

Programme of the Ad hoc committee to observe the presidential elections in Russia

(26 March 2000)

Thursday, 23 March 2000

8 pm       Ad hoc committee meeting (Hotel Metropol)

Friday, 24 March 2000

10.00 am       Meeting with Mr Guennady SELEZNEV, Chairman of the State Duma

10.45 am       Meeting with Mr Alexander VESHNIAKOV, Chairman of the Central Election Commission

12.00 noon       Meeting with Ambassadors of Council of Europe member states at the Irish Embassy

2.00-5.00 pm       Meeting with presidential candidates

6.00-8.00 pm       Reception in the Austrian Embassy (organised by OSCE)

evening       Departure to Kursk

Saturday, 25 March 2000

9.30 am       Departure to St. Petersburg

9.30 – 12.00 noon       Panel discussion on the current political situation in Russia, with particular focus on developments since the 1999 Duma elections

12.20 – 2.00 pm       Panel discussion on the role of mass media during the presidential elections and after.

Sunday, 26 March 2000

10.00 pm –

12.00 midnight       Meeting of the Chairpersons of the delegations of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and ODIHR to finalise the press release.

Monday, 27 March 2000

11.00 am       Meeting with the Russian parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

12.00 noon       Working lunch in the Hotel Metropol

2.00 pm       Press conference

afternoon       Departure of the delegation.

PRESS RELEASE

Moscow, 27 March 2000 - The 26 March 2000 election of the President marks further progress for the consolidation of democratic elections in the Russian Federation, concludes the International Election Observation Mission (IEOM).

The Central Election Commission (CEC) administered the process professionally and independently. The election took place under a new law that is consistent with internationally recognized democratic principles. The law provides the framework for pluralist elections and for a significantly high level of transparency in all phases of the electoral process. However, during the campaign some concerns emerged.

The IEOM is a joint effort of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (PA), and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Ms. Helle Degn, President of the OSCE/PA and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office's Special Representative for the presidential election, leads the OSCE Election Observation Mission. Ambassador Edouard Brunner leads the OSCE/ODIHR. long-term observers. Mr. Bjorn von der Esch leads the PACE delegation.

On election day, 11 candidates were on the ballot. However, the popularity of the acting President and the results during the 1999 State Duma election limited the field of candidates. Notwithstanding the CEC effort to enforce the law vigorously, candidates, campaign organizations and supporters circumvented the law in some cases. Additionally, volunteer campaign activities of State and regional administration officials on leave of absence raise concerns.

While the media in the Russian Federation remain pluralistic and diverse, independent media have come under increasing pressure. Moreover, as during the State Duma election, important segments of the media, both Statecontrolled and private, failed to provide impartial information about the election campaign and candidates.

The CEC decided to conduct the presidential elections in 12 of Chechnya's 15 districts and prepared all technical requirements. However, standard conditions for elections do not exist there. In particular, election campaign activities did not take place, the population had limited access to the media, they had limited freedom of movement, and the potential for intimidation and fear could not be ruled out. On election day, the IEOM did not observe the proceedings in Chechnya or the neighboring regions, though the CEC invited observers.

On election day, the 69% reported turnout was a confirmation of continued voter confidence in the electoral process. The polling in over 93,000 precincts was administered in accordance with the law. Observers rated their performance very high across the country. The performance of commissions during the counting of votes was rated lower as cumbersome procedural requirements were circumvented in order to expedite the process. The irregularities noted in the polling and the vote count did not appear to have an impact on the outcome of the election.

With less than a decade of democratic development in the Russian Federation, political parties and an environment for constructive political debate have yet to mature. Viewed in this context, the 26 March 2000 presidential election, while in general meeting the country's commitments as an OSCE participating State and as a member of the Council of Europe, revealed some weaknesses. Chief among these are pressure on the media and the decline of credible pluralism.

The International Election Observation Mission wishes to express appreciation to the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the State Duma, and the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation for their assistance and cooperation during the course of the observation.

The International Election Observation Mission issued a statement of preliminary findings and conclusions (attached) before the final certification of the election results and before a complete analysis of the IEOM's findings.

The preliminary statement is based on the findings of the OSCE/ODHIR Election Observation Mission established on 8 February 2000 in Moscow and 12 regions throughout the Russian Federation. Their findings include the pre-election preparations, the election campaign, and the media. The statement is also based on the election-day findings of the International Election Observation Mission's more than 380 short-term observers from 32 participating States, including more than 75 parliamentarians from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, who visited some 1,700 polling stations across the country.