Russia curb on vote monitors faces big opposition: U.S.

Other News Materials 1 November 2007 16:02 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - A Russian proposal to restrict European election monitoring damages democracy and is likely to face majority opposition in Europe's biggest security and rights body, the United States said on Thursday.

The State Department's undersecretary for political affairs criticized Moscow's drastic reduction in monitors to be invited in for Russia's December 2 parliamentary election and said he hoped a compromise could be found to ensure a credible mission.

Diplomats in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) see the moves as part of a Kremlin campaign to roll back what it regards as efforts to impose Western influence in the former Soviet region on the pretext of democratic values.

After weeks of delay, the OSCE received a Russian invitation on Wednesday saying that up to 70 of its monitors could be allowed in for giant Russia's parliamentary vote.

This was less than a quarter of the number admitted for Russia's 2003 general election, and for a longer time than the "short-term observation" stipulated in Wednesday's invitation.

Of the 2003 vote, the OSCE said it was flawed, including a lack of equal access to media for opposition parties.

The election monitoring arm of the 56-nation OSCE said the new curbs were "unprecedented" and could prevent a meaningful judgment on whether the vote is free and fair.

Speaking after talks with the chief of the OSCE's election watchdog, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Russia's draft proposal to reduce OSCE vote-monitoring and ban public reports right after an election was "quite negative."

The move will be weighed by OSCE foreign ministers at a November 29-30 Madrid gathering but "we will certainly not support it," Burns said. "Probably the great majority of countries would not support it (either) at the Madrid conference."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the new cuts did not violate Russia's OSCE obligations and it would not accept "attempts from abroad to try to influence" its elections.

Burns said Russia's decision to slash OSCE monitoring was regrettable and he hoped the election observation unit could still negotiate a more effective mission.

The December 2 vote shapes up as a referendum on President Vladimir Putin's almost eight years in power. Polls suggest his United Russia bloc will romp to a huge majority but opponents say his backing, and state domination of news media, gives the party an unfair advantage.

The head of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which oversees election monitoring, said Russia was trying to "deconstruct the autonomous and professional work" of international vote observers.

It was uncertain if at this late date ODIHR monitors could prepare enough to do a professional job in the Russian election but the matter was being examined, said Strohal.

Asked whether the ODIHR might reject the invitation on grounds that the terms were crippling, which has happened only rarely in a decade of monitoring, he said, "I hope not." ODIHR observers normally enter a country 3 months before an election.

Moscow wants ODIHR missions in seven ex-Soviet states to be "no more than 50 persons" and no more than 10 percent of observers in one mission should come from a single country.

The proposal also calls for publication of ODIHR reports to be authorized only by the OSCE's ministerial council. This could cause indefinite delay because of consensual decision-making.