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PACE Set to Discuss Election Fraud
Nikolaus von Twickel - - 1.20.12 - JRL 2012-10

Moscow is likely to face a barrage of criticism from European lawmakers next week when the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly ­ or PACE ­plans to hold two debates on last month's disputed State Duma elections.

On Monday, the assembly - made up of lawmakers from 47 member countries - will debate a final report of its election observer mission. Then, on Thursday, the body plans to hold an urgent debate on "Russia between two elections."

The decision to hold the second debate will be made on Monday, but it is "99 percent likely to go forward," said Andreas Gross, a Swiss lawmaker who is the assembly's co-rapporteur for Russia.

Duma deputies have criticized the second debate as unnecessary.

"PACE is excessively concerned about Russia this year," Leonid Slutsky of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party was quoted as saying last week by RIA-Novosti. "An urgent debate is clearly too much."

Gross countered that the debate was essential.

"There can be no democracy without debate," he told The Moscow Times by phone from Strasbourg on Thursday.

Anger about alleged vote-rigging triggered the largest anti-government protests in years, bringing tens of thousands into the streets.

The PACE's observer mission's final report, which will be published Monday, is expected to criticize the elections as rife with fraud. The mission's head, Dutch Senator Tiny Kox, said the day after the Dec. 4 election that he personally witnessed ballot-stuffing at a Moscow polling station.

Gross said Monday's report won't contain excessive criticism. He said he would be part of a PACE delegation that will hold talks in Moscow this Friday in order to make the report fully objective.

"We do not want to be accused of being informed just from the media," he said.

Among Russian officials that European lawmakers plan to meet are Central Elections Commission hairman Vladimir Churov and new Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin. Churov has previously cancelled meeting with the PACE observers, but a commission source confirmed to RIA-Novosti that Friday's meeting will take place as planned.

The delegation is also planning talks with all seven parties that ran in the election and with parties that were denied registration like the People's Freedom Party. They will also meet with human rights activists.

The Council of Europe is the continent's top human rights watchdog and its parliamentary assembly is considered the most high-profile platform for debate between Russian and Western lawmakers.

The Russian delegation, however, won't include members of the newly elected Duma, but will be made up of 14 lawmakers who are members of the country's previous mission, said Valery Levitsky, head of the delegation's secretariat. A new delegation won't be formed before February or March, he said.

Levitsky said delegation chairman Konstantin Kosachyov would not travel to Strasbourg. Kosachyov lost his influential position as the Duma's foreign policy committee chairman to television host Alexei Pushkov last month.

Gross said that while some questioned the Russian delegation's legitimacy, this opinion was not shared by the assembly's majority.

He argued that allegations of election fraud were nothing new.

"There never were free and fair elections in Russia. The road to democracy is a long one," he said.

Keywords: Russia, Government, Elections - Russia, Europe - Russia News - Russia


Post-Soviet Kazakhstan marked a major milestone this weekend, when two new parties were voted into the lower house of Parliament, breaking the pro-presidential party's virtual legislative monopoly. Yet given the political leanings of these parties, as well as alleged electoral irregularities, the move raises suspicion that the vote was all for show. Observers warned not to expect much change from the notoriously and longtime authoritarian Central Asian state.

The January 15 poll saw the election of the pro-business Ak Zhol Party and the Communist Peoples' Party, both of which secured around seven percent of the vote, in addition to the pro-presidential Nur Otan Party, which won a landslide of about 80 percent. The election was hailed by the government as a turning point for Kazakhstan, as it broke Nur Otan's near complete grip on the 107-seat legislature ­ since 2007, it has held 98 seats while the rest was occupied by independent lawmakers ­ and seemed to suggest, as part of a bigger picture, that the days of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's unchecked rule are coming to an end.

The vote stemmed from a recent law, drafted by Nur Otan itself, to transform the Majilis into a multiparty legislature and end the pro-presidential party's domination of the body. Adding to the suspicious generosity, it also stipulates that any second-place party ­ regardless of the seven percent threshold ­ would win seats. Before the elections, Nazarbayev pledged that at least two other parties would make it into Parliament.

And sure enough, Sunday's vote yielded victory for the two promised non-presidential parties. Officials, meanwhile, touted the move as a crucial moment of progress for Kazakhstan. "You will see, over the next three years, very slow, very gradual liberalization," Roman Vassilenko, the spokesman for Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, told The New York Times on January 14. "The key reason is the president himself sees the need for a more balanced political system."

But after the polls closed, others begged to differ. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe found that the vote had been marred by irregularities and "did not meet fundamental principles of democratic elections," according to a press statement released on January 16. Election observers also expressed disappointment with the lack of genuine opposition parties allowed to participate. Critics agreed. Bulat Abilov, the leader of the opposition National Social Democratic Party (OSDP), claimed the vote was heavily rigged. "We should not have held these elections at all," RIA Novosti reported him as saying. "Once again, they were marred by black PR against our party, as well as by agenda-driven public polls."

Indeed, many parties were reportedly barred from standing in the elections. What's more, only one of the seven parties allowed to compete was a genuine opposition party (Abilov's OSDP); the rest are seen as loyalists, to varying degrees, of Nazarbayev's. Experts noted that rather than offering a real opening in the political system, the regime simply sought to cast a democratic veneer over a long-existing authoritarian system. "The authorities would never let a real opposition party into Parliament," Kazakh political expert Dosym Satpayev told Kommersant FM after the vote. "Ak Zhol is absolutely loyal to the president. It's a sort of 'second leg' for him in Parliament."

Kazakhstan has long fit the model of an authoritarian Central Asian regime. Just as in neighboring Uzbekistan (and, until a few years ago, Turkmenistan), the current president is a holdover of the Soviet elite, having served as ruler since the Soviet collapse. Throughout independence, Nazarbayev has carefully crafted a soft authoritarian system, in which, as in Russia, the oil economy and a steadily growing middle class is given priority ahead of individual rights and open political expression. Critics allege that Parliament, meanwhile, serves largely as a rubber stamp body to help realize Nazarbayev's political writ.

And a key part of an authoritarian system is its legitimacy. For this reason, experts argued that the most crucial factor at play in the parliamentary elections was the 75-percent voter turnout, which helps craft an image of Nazarbayev as a deserving leader. "These elections are, of course, important," Russian foreign affairs analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Al Jazeera. "For the regime the most important thing is the turnout, actually, not the result. Because a large turnout gives legitimacy to the authoritarian regime, and that's of paramount political importance."

e traditional supreme power and a new enslavement" of the population.