Experts of the interregional civic foundation ‘Golos-Ural’, within the framework of the movement for protection of voters rights ‘Golos’ (hereinafter, ‘Golos’), implementing the project ‘It is Time for Fair Elections. Increasing public trust in the Elections by developing a system of civic monitoring of implementation of voters rights and facilitation of platforms for a dialogue’ published a report on organizational peculiarities of the election committees of Russian Federation subjects (ECRFS). This report presents the analysis of the composition and activities of 14 election committees of Russian Federation responsible for organizing regional elections; these committees represents approximately 30% of all the regional election committees in the upcoming election.
This paper is one of the ‘Golos’ analytical reports on long-term observation of the regional and municipal elections (civic monitoring); these elections will be held on the same day – September 14, 2014. Trained long-term observers will observe the Elections, as well as the correspondents of ‘Civic Voice’ and activists.
On 14 September 2014, 5 800 single elections will be held, including the direct election of 30 regional governors, election of 14 regional parliaments, direct election of 3 heads of regional centres, election of 30 representative bodies of regional centres. ‘Golos’ conducts independent long-term and short-term election observation. The most important election of regional bodies of federal government and local authorities of regional centres will be held in 51 regions.
Under the current laws, the basic principles of the composition and activities of election committees (EC) shall be:
This study shows that in practice the composition of election committees does not actually imply its collegial activities.
It is seems that initially the collegiality of EC activities is primarily guaranteed by the nominated representatives of political parties competing in the elections; it should be the major factor contributing to ECs political neutrality.
In order such provisions would be implemented in accordance with the law (50% of the committee members should be representatives of political parties), there must be at least 7 parties obtaining the so-called ‘parliamentary privileges’ at the federal and / or regional levels. At the moment, there are four such parties at the federal level (United Russia, Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party, Just Russia), and in the best case additional 1–2 political parties in a few regions.
Although the right of non-parliamentary parties to be represented in the ECs is provisioned in the law, actually it depends only on the ‘good will’ of regional administration, its political preferences, or under the ‘quota’ applied to these parties only the loyal persons are assigned in order to further strengthen the influence of administration over the election committees and electoral process.
At first glance, formally all the ‘parliamentary’ parties are on an equal footing, and in accordance with the law, each party is entitled to assign one committee member.
In fact, the detailed analysis of EC composition shows that it is vice versa: among EC members, nominated by civic organizations, election committees and representative bodies of local self-government, there is a bountiful number of United Russia representatives, what is against the law (the party should not be represented in the election committee with more than one person).
Thus, one party actually dominates in most of the ECs, what prevents the committees from collegial decision making on the basis of the political neutrality of committees. In general, the contribution of political parties to EC decision making is absolutely insufficient.
On the basis of equality of voters’ rights, the interests of political parties shall not be exclusive during the election, as citizens can stand as an independent candidates for the election or can be nominated by public associations. Therefore the right of ‘non-partisan’ members to be represented in EC is provisioned in the law in order to protect the ‘non-partisan’ candidates against discrimination in favour to parties. The law entitles public associations to nominate their representatives to the ECs, but these associations do not stand in the elections and the procedures of the selection of such EC members are not expressly provisioned in a law, thus superior committees can arbitrarily approve or not a candidacy presented by public associations.
Thus, we can surely say that, despite the formal representation of public associations at ECs, the superior committees assist the regional authorities in finding loyal representatives for fulfilling vacant EC posts.
Not only the representatives of various associations could be the EC members, moreover, we can be sure that they do not play a major role in the majority of the election committees. Analysis of the composition of ECRFSs and TECs confirmed that the ‘administration’ of the election committees plays this role; they are formed by regional administration, composed of civil servants.
Under the paragraph 5 of Article 22 of the Law No. 67-FZ ‘On Basic Guarantees …’ civil servants can compose one-half of election committees of various levels. If we include the heads of regional budgetary bodies (unitary enterprises, state agencies, etc.), who formally have no connection with civil servants, however due to the nature of their responsibilities they are directly accountable to the governor and his subordinates, we would notice that the law provisions the election committees which are directly dependent on federal government and municipal authorities.
One could notice the obvious preference of the ‘governmental’ members of the committees instead of the civic (party) representatives in the committee.
It empowers the regional authorities to keep control over the decision making by involving the administration and dependent state employees.
The above analysis of the composition of election committees of the federal subjects implicates the conclusion that the legally provisioned principles and methods in regard to their composition do not safeguard their independence from the government, especially from the administration and the heads of regional institutions, and moreover their political neutrality.
In an ideal case a collegial body composed of members representing various socio-political interests should be established, with no actual dominance of any of them, what guarantees a kind of ‘political neutrality’ of EC and, therefore, the impartiality and legitimacy of its decisions.
The membership of election committees of the federal subjects and the territorial election committees, i.e. participating in all major decision making processes during the regional and municipal elections, as well as obtaining full information about the electoral process could be considered as one of the most important ‘bonus’ contributing to productive results of political parties. Therefore it seems to be fair, that all the parties which have achieved significant results in the recent federal and regional elections, i.e. was supported by decent number of voters, would have the right to appoint its members to ECs.
There are various ways of changing the practice of election committees’ formation in order to strengthen the position of political parties in the electoral system.
For example, the provision that half of the election committee members should be representatives of political parties could be implemented (8 out of 14), if all the parties, who passed the 3% threshold in the federal and regional elections, would be entitled to nominate their candidates to ECRFSs and TECs, as they were exempted from collecting signatures in the upcoming election. Or 8 parties which achieved the best results in the previous election could be as well entitled to this right (or possible combination of these principles). Another way of selecting members of the committees could be drawing lots among the parties standing in the election. Moreover the public associations which are not entitled to stand for the election may assign members to election committees as well by drawing lots.
In any case, the non- parliamentary parties must have an actual opportunity to be more in the charge of the electoral process, and the voters’ preferences should affect the composition of ECs. In this case, ECs would be really independent from the state and municipal authorities.