Election monitors boycott Russia's presidential poll

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The Independent Online

The election monitoring arm of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has said it will not send officials to Russia to observe voting at the presidential election on 2 March, blaming a lack of co-operation from the Russian authorities. The decision will be a further blow to the legitimacy of an election that critics abroad and within Russia have already denounced as a foregone conclusion.

Dmitry Medvedev, the First Deputy Prime Minister and Vladimir Putin's choice as his successor, is expected to win at least 70 per cent of the vote. He has refused to take part in televised debates with the other three candidates.

The OSCE boycotted December's parliamentary elections, which critics said were rife with violations, but a delegation was invited to Moscow earlier this week to try to reach a compromise over the March vote. In the end, the sticking point was the starting date of the mission, with the Russians offering 20 February, and the OSCE insisting on 15 February. Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, accused the organisation yesterday morning of making up its own rules, and said that "self-respecting countries don't accept ultimatums".

Later in the day, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights denied the organisation had given the Russians an ultimatum. "We just try to do a professional job in accordance with our mandate," said Christian Strohal in Vienna. He announced that the OSCE would boycott the vote altogether.

"It's very bad for us," said Liliya Shibanova, the director of Golos, an independent Russian election monitoring group. "The support of international monitors would have been very useful." She referred to the elections as "the least competitive in Russian history".

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