On 2 November 2016 Chairperson of the CEC of Russia Ella Pamfilova spoke at the OSCE ODIHR seminar on electoral issues held in Vienna (Austria).
The seminar was devoted to the review of international OSCE commitments and other standards for democratic elections as well as to the development of assessments of and recommendations on the results of election campaigns.
Speech of Ella Pamfilova, Chairperson of the CEC of Russia at the OSCE ODIHR election-related seminar
(Vienna, November 2, 2016)
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Link for the invitation to speak at this seminar and for the opportunity to highlight the efforts made by the ODIHR and by the OSCE, as a whole, to discuss the most burning and acute issues emerging between our countries. This is my first trip in my new capacity; only six months have passed since I was appointed the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation.
I have an extensive experience of participation in all electoral campaigns in Russia. I spent most of my career in the opposition: during the war in Chechnya and during many other periods of our modern history I had to go through all steps and “delights” of electoral campaigns since the beginning of the 1990s. Therefore, when I was asked to chair the Central Election Commission, my diverse experience has had a significant impact on the creation of strategy of actions of my colleagues and mine, which I shall revert to later. But now, as I really became the Chairperson just recently, I shall offer a few remarks and then I shall tell you about the things that we encountered during the last electoral campaign.
To start I would like to present to Mr. Link a new, fourth edition of the compendium of documents and materials titled “International Electoral Standards” prepared by the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. This compendium is indeed very important to us, as it is the essence of our efforts since 2004 to review the practice of applying international standards and requirements to elections. We have been actively involved in this work for 13 years, and this is the fourth edition which contains all applicable documents of the United Nations, OSCE, Council of Europe and other international organisations regarding realisation and protection of electoral rights and freedoms of citizens. While preparing this compendium, we wanted to make it a useful resource to those who are professionally involved or interested in issues of the relationship with the national legislation and in holding free and democratic elections, with full respect for the state sovereignty and its international legal obligations. Hopefully, it will be helpful to all those who are interested. I wish to recall that as early as 2002 the Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials submitted to the Council of Europe a draft Convention on Standards of Democratic Elections, Election Rights and Freedoms which contains extensive review of measures to avoid discrimination and other very important aspects. I wish, therefore, to return to this problem, because adoption of such a Convention would represent a crucial step at this difficult time towards harmonisation of electoral law in Europe as a whole, in accordance with European electoral principles. To its credit, the OSCE made serious efforts to create democratic election standards in the international document entitled ‘Copenhagen Plus’ and other documents. It is also important to discuss two other principles of democratic elections (not mentioned in the Copenhagen document) which are voters' confidence and responsibility of electoral process participants. This is the set of the OSCE principles and norms in the areas of elections which gives a better understanding of obligations of each participating State. Such obligations should be defined as clearly and unambiguously as possible. Unfortunately, now some of them are ambiguous. It is crucial to put the uniform interpretation of the obligations by the OSCE participant states into practice. Today I shall not provide any practical recommendations, as I’m only beginning to act in my new capacity.
You being the experts will devote greater attention to this problem in the course of our discussions. I would just like to give some examples from the experience of the electoral campaign in Russia. Regarding international observation, we find that this is an incredibly important institution. That is why, as the Chairperson of the CEC of Russia I decided to make my first overseas trip to Vienna to establish and develop cooperation with OSCE on the entire range of existing problems.
The new membership of the CEC of Russia has commenced its work in the wake of a negative aftermath of the 2011 electoral campaign. The confidence towards the results of elections on a part of our citizens was rather low, and it was very important for us to do our utmost to increase this confidence. Of course, it is good and important when international experts express positive views about elections. It is important when politicians assess election campaigns. But the main thing is the opinion of our citizens about election campaign. And this was our key message. We have sought to do our work as openly and transparently as possible. In a short period of time we managed not only to expose the major shortcomings and faults inherent in the current electoral system, but also to get rid of a substantial part of them by the day of election. From the outset, we have embarked on the maximum possible transparency having identified mass media, civil organisations and observers as our main allies. At all stages of the electoral campaign from its first day we did everything to prevent violations that might occur if we did not reveal the “trigger points” in this area in due time. Had we started smoothing this area, we might be less criticised. I can assure you that we could paint a rosy picture, but it can turn out a proper mess for the country. For that reason, the CEC became the main institution that initiated identification of shortcomings within the system.
We welcomed all interested people to come as international observers, and had 774 international observers from 63 countries who represented eleven international organizations. Most of them, of course, represented OSCE (442 persons), including the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (64 “long-term” and 296 “short-term” ODIHR observers, and 82 observers of the Parliamentary Assembly). It was a full-scale and comprehensive observation. We have done our best to remove any obstacles. International observers worked in 55 regions of Russia where up to 80 percent of our citizens voted. They had the opportunity to become familiar with all processes that took place in Russia up to the elections and on the single voting day. We hope to continue to work in the same way. Our mission was not to conceal or hide any flaws in our electoral system. It is stil important for us to reveal them in order to correct.
If we analyze the situation honestly and impartially and traditionally compare it with that in 2011 throughout the whole array of information, the number of violations was much lower, though the CEC of Russia focused much more attention on them than ever. It was the CEC of Russia that initiated the process of identifying all problems and possible violations. And it focused on the period up to the voting day rather than on the voting day itself. I am grateful to our independent experts who expressed interest in monitoring the election process. Since the beginning, we declared that our key allies in the election process were representatives of mass media, independent experts and observers. We worked together with them all the time: we argued and sometimes quarrelled defending different viewpoints. This is natural. Nevertheless, I am very grateful to observers and journalists, especially from independent opposition media, for providing us with information that our colleagues from the regions failed to furnish us. They made us react in time and prevent possible violations. We intend to continue this work. For us, this campaign is not over yet. We believe it is important that no abuse goes unpunished. We consistently continue working with our experts on this matter.
We continue working with the territorial election commissions; and we are going to revise training regional commissions. No violation will be left without our reaction.
During the 2016 election campaign, due to the efforts of the CEC of Russia one third of polling stations were equipped with the video surveillance system. I do not know if polling stations in other countries have a video monitoring system, while in Russia this practice was first introduced at the 2012 presidential election. This was done to keep the polling stations under monitoring from the beginning to the end of voting. Everything is recorded and records are stored for a long time -from several months up to a year after the end of the elections. And if someone has a complaint after the election, it is possible to review the video record, analyse it and draw appropriate conclusions. In the forthcoming Presidential election we intend to equip almost all of our polling stations with video monitoring systems to make the voting process as open and transparent as possible to all stakeholders.
At the end of the electoral campaign, we had rather serious claims on a number of legislative norms. After the previous 2011 campaign, we gave very serious consideration to the OSCE recommendations, most of which have already been implemented, and we intend to continue this work. I hope that now, following your report, we will work seriously as well. It is very important for us to get rid of the negative moments of the 2011 election campaign that provoked protests in the country and seriously undermined the credibility of elections. According to the results of the 2016 campaign, the credibility of the elections has increased. However, the voter turnout of 48 percent offers us food for thought and reflection, since this is the lowest turnout during all parliamentary elections in the country. Meanwhile, I can state with full responsibility that despite some violations the number of which was still much less than during the previous campaign, the main thing is that the elections were held in a free, transparent and legitimate manner. This is confirmed by a number of independent research studies (including those carried out by the Levada Center): the overwhelming majority of the respondents said that they experienced no pressure during the voting. The elections were held as openly and transparently as possible; and they were competitive, because representatives of 14 parties and deputies for single-seat districts ran in the elections, and there were more than 14 candidates for one seat.
At the opposition’s demand and on the OSCE recommendations, after 2011 the Russian legislation was liberalized as much as possible. The previous elections were based solely on the party list system, while the last elections were organized on the basis of single-mandate constituencies again. This was very important because people could vote and choose specific candidate apart from party representatives. Besides, the mixed system significantly increases the chances of candidates of "small" political parties to be elected. As a result of the last election to the State Duma, in addition to representatives of traditionally elected parties and deputies for single-seat districts, one representative from the RODINA and the CIVIL PLATFORM parties, each, were elected. I believe that the wider the spectrum of political parties represented in the legislative assembly, the better, but citizens have made their choice. I think that for many of those who voted for the UNITED RUSSIA it more likely means support of the President. Too bad that some parties exited, but it is not fair to blame the official authorities for everything; opposition parties have to do some hard work to eliminate their own mistakes that were numerous on their part. This campaign was unprecedentedly challenging.
In addition to the election of deputies of the State Duma, direct elections of governors, heads of regions were held. This is very important and it is well perceived by the society. As a result, on the single voting day 11 heads of constituent entities and 39 legislative assemblies of the Russian Federation regions were elected, as well as local elections were held. In all these elections, out of 74 parties that are eligible to participate in elections, 49 parties participated at all levels of elections. As you can see, the campaign was very hard and complex. I come back to the thesis that voting in single-member constituencies was reinstated. This enables parties to gradually develop themselves from the municipal elections to increase their potential political resource.
What are other indications of liberalization? We made the collection of signatures easier. Parties that are represented in the State Duma and parties that won at least 3 percent of votes in previous federal elections are exempt from collecting signatures. These parties can also nominate candidates in single-mandate constituencies without collecting signatures. Previously, we had a rule that if in one third of constituent entities of the Russian Federation a party makes it to the legislative assemblies, then it may not collect signatures to participate in the next federal campaign. Now this rule is completely liberalized. If at least in one constituent entity of the Russian Federation one of the party representatives became a deputy of the legislative body, then the whole party is exempted from collecting signatures at the federal level. The procedure for establishment and registration of parties was simplified. Now the party must consist of at least 500 members, while the requirements for the number of members in regional offices are not established. The process is significantly simplified. The barrier to the State Duma has been reduced from 7 to 5 percent. For the first time in our history, the federal law guarantees the right of observers to make photos and videos at polling stations. It was possible to significantly "clean" the existing system from fraud, although not completely.
Once again I would like to draw your attention to this fact, that we have several complaints brought against the legislation regarding the participation of civil observers and mass media accreditation. The CEC of Russia has maximally leveled out that legislation with bylaws in order to create a favorable regime for civil observers and mass media representatives. 4.5 million people may be hypothetically involved in the observation, but in reality about 430 thousand civil activists participated in the observation. Almost the same number as in 2011. Unfortunately, I believe that this is the problem of parties and single-mandate members, they did not use their electoral resources. Although the law does not directly regulate the existence of civil observation institutions, everyone who is engaged in observation from civil organisations could be an observer from any party. And, as far as I know, nobody who wanted to go to the polls and engage in civil observation was rejected. It became a problem for us that the need for observers was much more than a proposal. And the key objective of the CEC of Russia is to maximally maintain and develop institution of observation in the country. This is a problem for us. 880 thousand people are involved at all levels of election commissions: from PECs to the CEC, where representatives of many parties work.
Representatives of parties who have got (and many have got, including opposition) into the legislative assemblies of the regions are necessarily included in the composition of the election commissions as members with a deciding vote. Thus, representatives of at least six parties are present in most commissions. For example, representatives of the opposition party YABLOKO are present in 10 percent of all election commissions. Therefore, it’s very primitive to think that in all election commissions we have only officials who have been responsible for abuse in favor of the government. In fact, the situation is different. Composition of election commissions includes a wide range of party and public organizations, and at the level of commissions, there is also control over these processes.
As for media accreditation, there have been many accusations, or I would say criticism, that it was complicated. There were no restrictions for almost 8000 journalists who observed the voting. In fact, journalists had the same full set of rights as observers, but they had even more advantages because accredited journalists had the right to observe at any site, moving across the entire territory of the Russian Federation. They could also come to polling station before the start of voting, fully observe how the voting process was going on, be present during the counting of votes and the tabulating. They had absolutely the same rights. As for the legislative norm requiring the submission of lists of observers in three days, the CEC of Russia maximally simplified accreditation for mass media representatives, effectively passing a moratorium on non-admission of observers to polling stations, thus creating conditions for observers to submit lists until the last moment.
I would also like to draw attention to the fact that in the OSCE ODIHR preliminary report there was a critical comment regarding registration problems of opposition candidates. In fact, it is not true, I cannot agree with that. The overwhelming majority of opposition candidates were registered. There were difficulties with the registration, but they were more technical. In particular, there is a rather complicated system for registering candidates and a very difficult mechanism for verifying signatures. As a result, indeed, a number of candidates were eliminated, but regardless of whether they were from the oppositional or not. As for the opposition parties, first of all PARNAS party, YABLOKO party, I want to refer to few facts. For example, PARNAS nominated 394 candidates, of whom 384 were registered; due to various formal reasons 10 people dropped out of this list. 109 of 111 single-mandate candidates nominated by PARNAS party, were registered. YABLOKO party registered 164 out of 170 single-mandate members and from the general list, 462 out of 477 candidates. Well, facts are facts.
The CEC of Russia will host a scientific and practical conference, which will bring together experts to prepare a set of proposals for simplifying our legislation in order to remove unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.
During the work, we also had questions addressed to a number of our colleagues from regions and the heads of election commissions. Russia is a federal state, we have no vertical of power among election commissions, so each commission of constituent entities of the Russian Federation is independent in the same way as the CEC. The CEC of Russia has very limited levers of influence, but we used them and expressed no confidence towards a number of our colleagues - chairmen of election commissions for certain abuses. We reinstated in particular YABLOKO and PARNAS, when they were not registered in the regions, made maximum efforts to create all the conditions, first of all for the opposition, so that the parties could campaign normally, go around the country to meet with voters.
Concerning competition, for political parties participating in elections, 170 hours of broadcasting time on federal TV-channels and 42 hours on federal radio channels were provided. For each political party free space in 13 Russian public periodicals with a total volume of more than 23 sq. m. was granted. I think this is a lot. In addition, parties could use the services provided by the state television and radio companies and periodicals for their campagining. In the current campaign, the CEC of Russia submitted a notice of readiness to place campaign materials in 252 online periodicals. In 2011, they numbered only 32. There are much more TV and radio channels: now there 59 of them, in 2011 there were only 31. There are 153 Russian periodicals now, in 2011 there were 137. The thesis that there is no independent media in the Russian Federation and all media is controlled, mildly speaking, does not correspond to reality. In addition to the Internet, we have quite a lot of opposition publications that sound loud, and we, first of all, listen to them. During this period, in the CEC of Russia 1.5 times more campaign materials than in 2011 were presented.
As far at the debates are concerned, they were held for a month. They were broadcasted by the federal TV channels in the prime time. The CEC of Russia and lower level election commissions, in collaboration with the law enforcement agencies, suppressed the distribution of materials that defamed opponents. Currently, over 300 cases have been transferred to the law enforcement agencies to identify all violations and punish those responsible, criminal proceedings have already been initiated in a number of these cases. It is very important that none of those who committed offence, could escape the justice.
At the end of my presentation, I would like to say that the CEC of Russia continues its work: we identify violations, we carefully consider complaints. Reesults will be presented and shared with you also. At the moment, 55.6 percent of complaints from the total number of received were confirmed. For the most part, complaints of violations of the law have not been established, 685 complaints are under consideration by regional election commissions. I hope that following the results of the review the necessary conclusions will be made and there will be no more such violations during the next election campaigns.
I will not speak in detail now about the OSCE recommendations. All materials that we have developed, we will present separately.
We almost completely abolished early voting. Previous practice has indicated that this is one of the most obvious significant sources of abuse during elections. We have removed this source of abuse and violations.
As a result of this campaign, serious conclusions will be made and ideas will be presented on how to further increase the credibility of the election campaign and eliminate various types of abuses. A letter warning of the responsibility for the use of administrative resources was recently sent to each Governor. Nevertheless, there were instances of abuse of administrative resources during the 2016 campaign. At the suggestion of the CEC of Russia, a number of officials will incur punishment for this, up to and including dismissal from their posts.
I would also like to make the following suggestion. It would be very useful here, within the OSCE framework, to gather all the organisers of the electoral process and chairs of election commissions to exchange experience, to discuss what we have achieved, what is missing and what differences exist in our electoral systems, how, while maintaining identity and sovereignty, to increase the confidence of not only our own voters, but also increase the credibility of the institution of elections as a whole in all countries. Such an open exchange of opinions and experience would be very useful for all of us - those who are interested in the development of fundamental institutions of democracy.
Thank you for your attention.