'Frequent violations' in Russia vote: OSCE observers
Russia's parliamentary polls won by the ruling party were marred by frequent procedural violations including ballot stuffing, international observers led by the OSCE said on Monday.
Sunday's polls "were characterised by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation, including serious indications of ballot box stuffing," the security body said after observing vote counts in 115 polling stations.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party United Russia won the polls with a much reduced majority, after the opposition reported mass violations and crackdowns on independent media and election monitors.
But the observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) missions and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly said the elections were characterised by a "lack of level playing field".
"The contest was also slanted in favour of the ruling party, the election administration lacked independence, most media were partial and state authorities interfered unduly at different levels," they said.
They noted that while seven political parties ran in the election, the prior denial of registration to certain opposition parties "had narrowed political competition."
"These elections were like a game in which only some players are allowed on the pitch, and then the field is tilted in favour of one of the players," said Heidi Tagliavini, the head of the election observation mission of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.
They said the voting process itself was generally well organised, but violations mainly occurred as officials counted the votes.
"We visited 115 polling stations for the counting," said Tagliavini. "In 34, it was assessed to be very bad. That's almost 25 percent. And then add to that serious indications of ballot stuffing in 17 stations."
Tiny Kox, head of the delegation of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, said he personally saw crude violations after a polling station closed.
"You could see that there are stuffed ballot papers. It is, I think, a major insult to all those who voted."
Kox also complained that central electoral commission chief Vladimir Churov cancelled two scheduled meetings with him. After an informal meeting, Churov also filed an official complaint about their pre-election mission to Russia.
"Without a referee who is beyond any doubt, you will have great difficulty playing the game of democracy," he said.
But the team said they did not yet have evidence of violations such as voters bussed around polling stations to vote multiple times, and Kox said the election proved that voters were able to change the make-up of the State Duma.
"It was proved by these voters that not everything is fixed and the result really matters."
Meanwhile France urged Moscow to investigate the allegations of widespread irregularities in the elections.
"All light must be shed on allegations in the report of the OSCE and we hope that lessons will be learned for the next elections organised in Russia," the deputy spokesman for the French foreign ministry, Romain Nadal, said.
© 2011 AFP