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On the implementation of recommendations from the final reports of the OSCE/ODIHR following the Russian presidential elections of 2004 and 2012, and the State Duma deputy elections of 2003, 2011, and 2016

More than half of the 121 recommendations of OSCE/ODIHR on elections have not been implemented. The Golos Movement analysed the reports of the organization following the results of five federal elections in Russia from 2003 to 2016.

The worst situation can be found in the regulation of agitation and media work: only six of the Bureau’s 25 recommendations were implemented to some extent. In addition, the problem of using administrative resources remains unresolved.

Most effective is the reform of procedures governing the voting and counting process. Mostly, technical problems are solved that do not affect the design of the electoral system and the established practices.

The Golos Movement for Protection of Voters’ Rights has analysed the recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), presented in the final reports of the Election Observation Missions in the Russian Federation. Golos plans to perform a similar monitoring of the recommendations issued by international observers representing the Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS Member States; however, on the Parliamentary Assembly’s official website, we have discovered only one report pertaining to the monitoring of the Russian elections, and containing a single recommendation. We consider the practice of analysing the implementation of recommendations very important, and we hope that OSCE/ODIHR will look into the possibility of organizing such monitoring.

Altogether, we have analysed five final reports by the OSCE/ODIHR, covering the Russian presidential elections of 2004 and 2012, and the State Duma elections of 2003, 2011, and 2016, which contained a total of 121 recommendations. Some of the recommendations were reiterated in several reports from different years. The greatest number of recommendations, 31, were made after the presidential elections. In other years, the number remained stable and fluctuated from 20 in 2012 to 26 in 2003. Our analysis shows that 15 recommendations (12.4%) were fully implemented, 41 recommendations (33.9%) were partially implemented, and 65 recommendations (53.7%) were not implemented at all.

Golos’ experts have divided all of the recommendations into 14 groups, in accordance with their areas of expertise.

The first group, «Election System Design,» includes 12 recommendations, of which only one has been implemented, albeit after being repeated twice in different reports. The recommendation in question concerned the repeal of the «Against all» vote. That being said, experts of the Golos Movement believe that this recommendation had a negative effect on the development of Russia’s electoral and political system, as it significantly narrowed the voters’ choices and led to an increase in absenteeism. An additional recommendation, to change party-specific legislation to remove a number of discriminatory norms regarding political parties, was partially implemented. Following the mass protests of 2011 and 2012, the minimum number of political party members was reduced dramatically, allowing even small groups of like-minded people to unite. Nonetheless, in practice, opportunities to refuse party registration on political grounds remain. There is still a ban on the creation of parties based on regional and ethnic origin, which can be attributed to apprehensions regarding the potential growth of separatist sentiments in the country. At the same time, a number of important recommendations regarding the simplification of electoral legislation and its unification within a single code, boosting competitiveness of elections and guaranteeing citizens the rights of association and expression of their opinions, have not been implemented. Moreover, we have seen a strong degradation in almost all of these areas over the last 14 years.

The second group, «Administrative Resource,» contains seven recommendations, of which only two have been partially implemented. These recommendations concern certain changes in the work of the Central Election Commission following its latest reorganization and the attempts of its management to win back the citizens’ trust in the electoral system. That being said, on a fundamental level, there have been no improvements in reducing the abuse of administrative ressources.. Moreover, the situation today is in many ways worse than it was in 2003. The use of official status and public resources in the interests of specific candidates in the course of an election campaign remains the key problem that substantially violates the principle of candidates’ and parties’ equality and corrupts competition at elections on all levels.

The third group of recommendations, which concerns the registration of candidates, contains 10 suggestions, of which three have been partially implemented: the number of required signatures in support of a candidate’s nomination in the presidential elections has been reduced; a new regulation, allowing candidates to rectify deficiencies in documents submitted for registration, was instituted in 2006; and elections in single-mandate constituencies were reinstituted. Nevertheless, here, too, the changes are more of a formal nature, while the candidates’ actual situation has been worsened by law enforcement practices. For example, the reappearance of single-mandate constituencies on the eve of the 2016 elections did not bring about increased competition and greater parliamentary representation. On the contrary, real political competition was absent in the overwhelming majority of single-mandate constituencies. The recommendations on improving the level of neutrality in the election commissions’ activities in the candidate registration process were not implemented. The elections of 2016 demonstrated that the collection of voter signatures remains a practically insurmountable barrier for the overwhelming majority of independent candidates. The restrictions on electoral rights, including the right to be elected, remain disproportionate to the citizens’ violations of the law and allotted punishment.

The fourth group of recommendations, «Voter Registration and Voter Lists,» includes five suggestions. In accordance with recommendations made in 2003 and 2004, the procedures for voter registration have been improved, leading to more accurate voter lists. Unfortunately, the recommendations on improving the level of openness and efficiency in working with voter lists have yet to be implemented.

The fifth group, «Voting Process,» combines 15 recommendations. Only two of them can be judged as fully implemented. Now, the electoral legislation clearly specifies the number of ballots the election commission has to bring when travelling for «home voting.» Furthermore, the lack of introduction of new methods of remote voting which would guarantee the secrecy of vote, can be seen as a peculiar way of implementing a respective OSCE/ODIHR recommendation addressing this issue. 

Recommendations to educate voters about the need to observe vote secrecy can be judged as partially fulfilled. There has been a gradual abandonment of absentee voting ballots, the number of special polling stations has been reduced, and the existing polling stations are slowly being equipped to welcome voters with physical disabilities. That being said, the problems with mobile voting remain unchanged. Such voting practices continue to draw numerous admonitions from the participants of the electoral process and election observers, especially when it comes to proactivity and voluntariness of the applications submitted by voters. The list of reasons for absentee and preliminary voting remains too expansive and undefined. The secrecy of the vote is systematically violated. The Golos Movement would specifically like to underscore potential challenges pertaining to the OSCE/ODIHR recommendation to implement voting by post in Russia, as we believe that, under existing conditions, voting by post may create additional opportunities for ballot-stuffing.

The sixth group of recommendations, «Vote Counting,» included seven suggestions. Six of them have been partially implemented. In particular, the scale of training of election commission members to make sure that they better observe the procedures of vote counting, has been expanded substantially. There has been a certain simplification and automatization in the procedure of filling out the protocols. In cases of complaints from election observers and participants of the electoral process, a vote recount can be held at polling stations equipped with touch-screen voting machines. Experience has shown, however, that the training activities themselves bring very modest results. This is most likely a result of the fact that the first group of recommendations, aimed at simplifying the existing election legislation, has not been implemented. Moreover, we believe that in recent years election legislation has become even more convoluted. The recommendation to change the report form sheet to include a line for the number of voters added to the voting list on the day of the election has not been implemented. 

The seventh group of recommendations, dedicated to non-party observation, includes seven suggestions. This is where the greatest rollback is visible. Only one of the suggestions — concerning the value of independent observers in the election process — can be considered provisionally implemented as the new staff of the Central Election Commission publicly declares the importance of independent observation. At the same time, however, the legislative initiatives of 2003-2017 have dramatically worsened the position of independent observers, making genuine civic control near impossible from a legal point of view. In 2005, a statutory provision, which allowed civic organizations to dispatch their observers to polling stations, was removed from Russian legislation. Since then, Russian citizens have been forced to search for other ways to enter polling stations as either observers representing participants of the electoral process or as representatives of the media, whose right to be present at the polling stations was also challenged by the new regulations. In December 2017, the law on the Russian presidential elections was hastily amended, giving the Civic Chamber of Russia and the civic chambers of its constituent regions the right to nominate election observers This cannot, however, be viewed as even a partial implementation of recommendations regarding civic election observation. The civic chambers are primarily assembled by government authorities, and cannot be called civic institutions independent of the state. Instead of providing civic organizations with the right directly to send observers to polling stations, the authorities invented an administrative filter in the form of civic chambers. There is a great probability that this institution will be used to imitate civic control in the public space.

The eighth group, «Election Commissions,» contains 10 suggestions. Only two of them have been implemented in full: Territorial Election Commission protocols now contain information about the movement of absentee voting certificates, and the guidance materials for Polling Election Commissions (PECs) have been made more concise. We consider six of the recommendations to be partially implemented: beginning in 2003, information about voting results with a breakdown by polling stations has been swiftly published; statutory provisions regulating the assistance of government officials to election commissions in organizing the elections have been added to the legislation; over the last two years, the Central Election Commission has done a better job of conforming to the requirements of objectivity and impartiality. At the same time, the principal problem, in our view — the absolute dependence of election commissions on the executive branch — has not been resolved.

The ninth group contains seven recommendations regarding the guarantees of women’s and ethnic minorities’ rights to participate in the political process. Over the last 14 years, the situation regarding the provision of voting rights to internally displaced persons has improved significantly. First, the number of people in this category has been greatly reduced. Second, the organizers opened special polling stations where citizens without registration can vote. This, however, led to opportunities for multiple voting at such stations. In addition, the restoration of single-mandate constituencies in the elections of State Duma deputies has allowed for partial resolution of the problem of ethnic minority representation. The problem with the use of hate speech on the campaign trail has not been resolved, however, and in recent years has become even more relevant. Furthermore, Russia remains at the bottom of the international rating based on proportion of women elected to the national parliament.

The most sizable was the tenth group of recommendations, containing suggestions on issues of election campaigning and media coverage. It should be noted, however, that a significant number of the 25 recommendations in this group are repeated from election to election, chiefly because most of the recommendations have not been implemented over the course of this decade-and-a-half period. In particular, there is a considerable imbalance in Russia in the way the activities of candidates and parties are covered. The state-owned federal media and smaller outlets controlled by local administrations often blur the line between agitating for a candidate and providing information about the activities of government officials in order to create favourable publicity for specific participants of the electoral process. Furthermore, after introducing bans on the criticism of opponents and the use of third-person images, the current legislation has significantly reduced the number of campaigning instruments. The only positive adjustment has been the abolishment of the provision that political parties that failed to collect 2% of votes, given under the federal proportional system, had to pay back the cost of the free advertising to the state-owned mass media.

The eleventh group of recommendations, «Technological Equipment of Election Commissions,» had two suggestions, of which one was implemented — transparent ballot boxes have been introduced, and the installation of touch-screen voting machines continues. The recommendation to introduce independent certification of software and equipment used in the electoral process can be regarded as partially implemented.

The twelfth group, «Complaints, Investigations, Punishment,» combines 11 suggestions. One of them was fully implemented, as the Russian legislation was augmented with a provision specifying personal administrative or criminal liability for multiple voting and ballot rigging. Recommendations on the investigation of cases of abnormal voter turnout have been partially implemented. For example, following the September 10, 2017 elections in the Saratov Region, all the chairmen of the Territorial Election Commissions in the region were fired due to the falsification of election results. However, no one is trying to puzzle out the reasons for the ‘distinct electoral culture’ in the dozen or so regions which traditionally demonstrate abnormal voting results. Recommendations on proprietary monitoring of mass media by the election administration have been partially implemented, but a severe imbalance in the coverage of candidates’ activities remains. Recommendations on the intensification of election commission members’ training and improving the transparency of complaint reviews have also been partially implemented. It is currently impossible to carry out these recommendations in full due to the excessive number of complaints and reports submitted to the Central Election Commission.

The thirteenth group, which reviews issues pertaining to the financial transparency of campaigns, contains just one recommendation, envisioning the enhancement of the financial transparency of electoral funds, and it has not been implemented. The Golos Movement has regularly pointed out the existence of shadow financing and hidden state financing of election campaigns. A separate issue concerns campaign financing through civic organizations whose financial reports are unavailable to the public. Requirements of public financial reporting at regional and local elections differ significantly, and the Taxpayer Identification Numbers of many corporate sponsors are missing, making their straightforward identification difficult. The election commissions tasked with reviewing the financial reports lack the sufficient authority for a genuine fight with shadow financing.

The fourteenth group of recommendations, concerning the actions of the police at polling stations, can be judged as partially implemented. It contains just two practically identical recommendations that envision a more detailed regulation of law enforcement agencies’ activities at polling stations. Nonetheless, problems with the police’s lack of understanding of electoral legislation remain, as law enforcement officials are unfamiliar with the rights and obligations of the election commission members, public observers, candidates, and their authorized representatives. Furthermore, the police are often reluctant to react to the election observers’ and voters’ requests to receive their statements about violations of the law, and to draw up the relevant protocols.

Overall, it can be said that, over the last few years, progress has been made in regard to some recommendations, the majority of which are of a technical nature. At the same time, a number of fundamental issues have not been resolved, and there has been measurable deterioration in several of them. The latter trend primarily concerns the rights of election observers, the degree of actual competition in elections, and the misuse of public resources and abuse of official functions.

The report was prepared by the expert group in the persons of Stanislav Andreichuk, Andrei Buzin, Vitaly Kovin, Arkady Lyubarev, Grigory Melkonyants, and Denis Shadrin.