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Overview of 2016 Election trends

by Arkady Lyubarev, PhD in Law, expert in election law; expert of Civil Initiatives Committee; since 2013, the co-chair of 'Golos' movement Board

2016 comes to an end. It was difficult, but interesting. Unfortunately, in many areas 'dark forces' has been getting stronger. Despite that, what concerns elections, one could notice some glimmers of hope, the negative trends were followed by the positive developments.

Regarding the negative trends, I primarily would like to highlight the deterioration of regulatory framework since the beginning of the year and, of course, the misuse of administrative resources, which in some places have been employed in much more sophisticated manner. The unwise opposition course should be highlighted, as well as the behaviour of numerous opposition-minded voters who for some reason thought that their ignorance towards elections would mean a 'fig sign' showed to the government. Nevertheless, they did not understand that it was exactly what the government wanted them to do (the situation resembled a son-in-law who is poking out his own eyes to annoy his mother-in-law).

Certainly, a positive trend is related to the appointment of new CEC members, where Ella Pamfilova has been appointed CEC chair.

Many persons are very disappointed by such developments. The New Times labelled Ella Pamfilova as 'Anti-hero of the Year', in the same category as Sechin, Medinsky, Mutko and Zakharchenko. In my opinion, it is unfair and stupid. Kommersant stated that Pamfilova changed the rhetoric of Central Election Commission, 'but she failed to change the government approach to the election participants'. In addition, as Kommersant informed, 'Ms. Pamfilova has finally established a principle of great significance to the Russian politics: the election results in the Russian Federation cannot be challenged ... Ms. Pamfilova has already proved that she can fulfil the main task assigned to CEC by the executive authorities - to ensure the election security and do it in a way that convinced majority of society'.

What can I say? If someone expected Ella Pamfilova as the chairwoman of Central Election Commission would make some miraculous changes in our electoral system, that person was very naive and incompetent. Moreover, some opinions were outright sceptical, explicitly claiming that no fundamental changes would be made. Both sides were wrong.

Of course, lots of issues depends on the CEC, but not too many. Even the most wonderful CEC members could not ensure that elections were fair, conditioned by chaotic legal framework, biased media and judges, bureaucracy serving the highest authorities, anti-liberal atmosphere.

Moreover, we still must consider that the CEC as a body is still not monolithic. Moreover, most of its members remain the same, including those who felt very comfortable under Churov. In addition, among the newly appointed CEC officials, some are pro-government oriented. The Central Election Commission - a collegial body, therefore, the chairperson's powers to go against the majority is rather limited.

Nevertheless, the achievements are rather significant. Although it is obvious that much less is done than we would like to. In my opinion, it is very important, not only from the point of view of the current election campaign, that the attitude towards election observers and organizations engaged in election observation has changed, as the Kommersant acknowledges. In recent years, election observation organizations which experienced various grievances got noticeably weaker. Nowadays, they have a chance for recovery.

However, in my opinion, the major problem lies within different matter. We used to hear the CEC chairman saying that we had the best election system in the world and those who criticize it were perceived as enemies. Any allegations about violations were associated with overseas intrigues. Moreover, the 'foreign agents' were declared as major impediment to Russian elections.

Even now we occasionally hear some statements resembling the previous rhetoric. Information on discredit of Russian election campaign, saying that 'the violations that were reported in no way could affect the final election results'.

I cannot say that I like these statements, but I treat them with understanding. The CEC chairperson cannot be as open as independent experts in criticizing the electoral system.

It is important that violations are acknowledged and the problems are not ignored. The urgency to introduce some significant changes to electoral system is admitted, therefore such developments leave hope that those relatively limited 2016 achievements endure.

The claims that Pamfilova has finally achieved that the elections results in the Federation of Russia cannot be challenged are foolish. It was attained long time ago, to my opinion, already in 2004. The shorter time-limit to challenge election results was provisioned two years ago, (not excluding the interference of Constitutional Court), could not in any way reduce the chances of success in challenging the election results, as it was impossible since long ago. However, such provisions reduced the opportunities for the public to address violations.

However, the probability that at least some of the violations will be acknowledged is now higher than it was five years ago. Some of the perpetrators have been already penalized. Unfortunately, only scapegoats are usually brought to justice, but not the initiators. However, Prosecutor's Office, Investigation Committee or courts should address the issue, rather than CEC.

We enter a New Year with loads of unsolved problems, including those which could have been sorted out already in 2016. A new Public Council under the auspices of CEC remains a vision, although initial plan was to open it already in October. Even an expert consulting group under the CEC chairman has not yet been officially approved. At a meeting with the President Ella Pamfilova has asked him to set up a working group to develop amendments to the election law. Most probably such group will be set up. Nevertheless, it is not known yet when and in what composition.

Less time remains to adopt even the most necessary amendments to the election law before the fall campaign for regional and municipal elections is launched.

Yet it is still possible, that in 2017, the reform of electoral system will be continued. Of course, the pace of reform is important. Yet the main issue is the direction, rather than the timing.

Just do not count on god, tsar or a hero. Anyone who is supporting fair elections must put some effort to achieve it.

Happy New Year!