WARSAW, 7 February 2008 - The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) regrets that restrictions imposed on its planned election observation mission will not allow it to deploy a mission to the 2 March 2008 presidential election in Russia.
"We made every effort in good faith to deploy our mission, even under the conditions imposed by the Russian authorities," said Ambassador Christian Strohal, ODIHR's Director. "We have a responsibility to all 56 participating States to fulfil our mandate, and the Russian Federation has created limitations that are not conducive to undertaking election observation in accordance with it."
Russia, as all OSCE states, has committed to inviting international observers for its elections and also mandated ODIHR, in 1994, to "play an enhanced role in election monitoring, before, during and after elections". Yet contrary to standard practice, Russia did not accept an ODIHR planning mission that would have been conducted in December in order to determine the scope of a potential observation mission. While Russia eventually invited ODIHR on 28 January, it set severe restrictions on the composition and duration of the mission, also contrary to previous Russian elections observed.
"An election is more than what happens on Election Day. The Copenhagen Document makes this clear, committing states on fundamental issues such as the right of citizens to seek public office, their right to establish, in full freedom, their own political parties, to conduct political campaigning in a fair atmosphere without administrative obstacles, and access to the media on a non-discriminatory basis. Therefore, the time frame set by Russian authorities has already prevented us from observing many important parts of the election process, beginning with the registration of candidates and aspects of the campaign, including the work of the media," Strohal underlined.
In response to the restrictions set, ODIHR outlined minimal parameters necessary for effective, though limited, observation in the Russian Federation. In its response yesterday, Russia's Central Election Commission replied that it could not meet those minimal parameters and that ODIHR's intention to deploy its mission in this already compressed time frame "could not be seen as a positive step, taking into account our fundamental position". Consequently, visas for members of the advance team were denied.
"What is true for every election is also true for this one: transparency strengthens democracy; politics behind closed doors weakens it," Strohal added. "I regret this development and hope that the Russian authorities can find their way back to unimpeded co-operation with the ODIHR and its long-established election observation mandate."