Association GOLOS – Domestic Monitoring of Elections to the 6th State Duma of the Federal Assembly Russian Federation, 4. December 2011
The Association GOLOS has conducted a large-scale observation of the elections to the 6th State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russia Federation. In 48 Federal Subjects, long-term observers from the Association GOLOS monitored the events of the elections. On election day itself and for the investigation of the election results, around 1,700 correspondents from the newspaper “Grazhdanskij golos” [Eng.: Citizen’s voice] conducted a short-term observation, visiting around 4,000 polling stations in 40 regions.
GOLOS organised a “Map of violations”, a website on which citizens of the Russian Federation were able to report violations throughout the entire election period. On the “Map of violations”, a joint project run by GOLOS and the internet publication Gazeta.ru, more than 5,000 reports of violations were submitted by election day; following election day the number of reports rose to 7,800.
In the week before election day, a widespread and coordinated campaign was let loose against the Association GOLOS, which consisted of legal persecution (a fine was issued), defamatory reports in the media, interference with the work of staff and correspondents, and hacking attacks on the website and staff email accounts.
The election of deputies to the State Duma was neither free nor fair, nor did it meet the demands of the Russian electoral code and international electoral standards. The fundamental principles of elections were not adhered to, namely true competition and the equal rights of all sides involved, a neutral administration, independent election commissions, a vote conforming to the law and a correct vote-counting process. All phases of the election period were marked by a range of violations against the electoral code, which were designed to distort the will of the electorate and thereby remove the possibility of an appropriate representation of citizens’ interests in the most senior legislative organ of the country.
2. The legal framework
The election of the Duma deputies is regulated by two laws: by the federal law “On the fundamental guarantees of electoral rights and the rights of citizens of the Russian Federation to participate in a referendum” and by the federal law “On the elections of the deputies of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation”.
The Russian electoral code is notable for its instability. The law “On the fundamental guarantees of electoral rights…” was altered 28 times between 2008 and 2011 alone, whilst the law “On the elections of the deputies…” was changed 17 times in the same time period. These alterations were, however, not of fundamental importance, as the basic rules governing the Duma elections have remained unchanged since 2007.
All 450 deputies in the State Duma are elected according to a system of proportional representation in one single “Federal Constituency”, i.e. the electoral territory of the Russian Federation. The State Duma is elected for a 5 year term (until 2007 the term was 4 years). The lists of candidates for the political parties have to be divided into a central section of up to 10 candidates and no fewer than 70 regional candidate groups, which each have to correspond to particular geographical areas – a region, part of a region or a group of regions.
The threshold for admission into parliament remains at 7 %. As a result of new regulations, however, each party which achieves between 5 and 6 % of the vote is given a “consolation mandate”, and parties which achieve between 6 and 7 % are given two; it should be noted that with 450 deputies, 5 % of the vote would correspond to around 23 mandates and 7 % to 32 mandates.
The most important changes to the legislation in the years 2008 and 2009 related to the conditions for registering the parties’ candidate lists, above all the abolition of the electoral deposit. Of the 7 registered parties, three parties which are not represented in the Duma had to present 150,000 supporter signatures. The number of permissible rejects amongst these signatures was allowed to be no more than 5 %. Slight changes were also made to the regulation governing the submission of documents to the Central Election Commission and the drafting and evaluation of signature lists.
The transparency of the elections has been reduced by a restriction introduced in 2005: Now election observers can only be appointed to polling stations by registered candidates or by parties whose candidate lists are participating in the elections. The institute of local election monitoring by society is not foreseen by law, for which reason the GOLOS volunteers had to conduct the election monitoring as journalists working for the newspaper “Grazhdanskij golos”.
3. The election administration
At the Duma elections, election commissions act at four levels: This includes the Central Election Commission (CEC), 83 Federal Subject election commissions (SECs), 2,746 territorial election commissions (TECs) and around 95,300 precinct election commissions (PECs).
The election commissions are highly dependent on the executive, which is represented at the elections by the party “United Russia”.
The CEC consists of 15 members, each with a full vote. Five members are appointed by the president, five by the State Duma and five by the Federation Council.
The five members appointed by the president are all candidates from the presidential administration, which is closely allied to the party “United Russia” (Edinaya Rossiya, ER). Of the five members appointed by the State Duma, two are candidates from ER; of the five members appointed by the upper house, three representatives of either the executive or of ER can be found. This means that in total no fewer than ten of the 15 members of the CEC are under the control of the state administration.
The majority of new appointments to the election commissions in the Federal Subjects take place in the year of the Duma elections for a period of five years. The composition of 64 subject election commissions was changed in 2011, with 23 commissions receiving a new chairman. In most cases, such a change can be traced back to a change in the post of governor, which clearly illustrates the dependent relationship between the election commissions and the executive. Another pattern can be seen in regions where problems can be observed for ER, with heads of the election commissions also being dismissed. In several cases, the new heads of the election commissions are not only closely allied with the regional government, but also with ER.
At least half of the members of the election commissions at the lower levels have to be appointed following a recommendation from the parties which are represented in the State Duma and/or the corresponding regional parliament. However, the more relevant condition here is that no party can nominate more than one member. Often, applicants for the election commissions who have been nominated by extra-parliamentary parties or unwelcome society associations are rejected. As only four parties are represented in the State Duma and the majority of regional parliaments are also made up of precisely these parties, most election commissions – which have between 9 and 14 members – have only four party representatives, and therefore a maximum of three from opposition parties.
4. Registration of the parties’ candidate lists
According to the laws currently in place, only registered parties which were able to confirm the registration of their regional organisations in more than half of the Federal Subjects were allowed to nominate candidate lists. The lists of all seven political parties were registered.
In the years 2004–2009, the number of political parties fell from 46 to 7, with 12 parties being dissolved by court order (in 2011, the dissolution of the Republican Party of Russia was declared by the European Court of Human Rights to be non-compatible with international standards), several parties disbanded themselves due to the threat of being forcibly dissolved by the courts, and other parties aligned themselves with “A Just Russia” (SR) due to a mixture of free will and force. With the exception of the party “Right Cause” (PD), which emerged with unconcealed Kremlin support as a replacement for three parties which had dissolved themselves, no new political party was registered from 2005 to 2011, although there were around a dozen attempts to form new parties during these years. The registration of these parties was denied on grounds which are in clear opposition to the legal position of the ECHR.
By law, each citizen of the Russian Federation who is entitled to the passive right to vote and who is not a member of a political party has the right to apply to any political party of his/her choice to be accepted onto the party’s nationwide candidate list. This procedure, however, foresees such tight deadlines that it was not used by the citizens anywhere. On the list for ER, 184 of the 599 candidates were without party affiliation, 71 of 313 for PD, 100 of 585 for SR, 60 of 594 for the CPRF, 56 of 374 for “Yabloko”, 40 of 309 for the party “Patriots of Russia” (PR) and 6 of 312 for the LDPR. According to the information available, the presence of candidates without formal party affiliation is not due to the procedure of a citizen’s application foreseen in law, but due to other relationships between these persons and the relevant party leadership. In no region were representatives of the Association GOLOS, not even in one single instance, able to successfully take advantage of this declarative regulation by independent candidates.
It must be stressed that given the circumstance that a number of political parties were dissolved through force and other parties were denied registration, a significant number of politically active citizens, who lost legal party affiliation against their will, are thereby robbed by the system of pure proportional representation of the possibility of standing at the election as candidates for a Duma mandate.
5. Election campaign
The election campaign was characterised by the practice of regional and local administrative officials taking part in the campaign for ER on a broad scale, which was often painted as reporting on their professional activities. At the same time, there was active interference in the election campaign activities of the other parties.
Due to the high concentration of representatives of the most superior state bureaucracy on the candidate list of ER (including the president, 8 members of government and most governors), the entire state power system effectively worked for the election result of the “party of power”, whilst the boundaries of professional power were constantly ignored, with pressure being put on voters, the media and opponents. The regional, city and municipal district governments and administrations were all effectively transformed into election campaign offices working for ER, whilst the government and administration heads made no secret of campaigning for ER.
The key strategy of ER continues to consist of widespread indirect election advertising for ER with the help of social or similar advertising campaigns, which both stylistically and in meaning are aligned to the election advertising of “United Russia”. These campaigns make use of slogans and images which are close enough to be confused with the election advertisements of ER. It was not uncommon for campaigns with no formal connection to ER to bear the party logo or a stylised emblem which was based on it. Particularly striking were advertising boards from ER which almost completely imitated posters from the Moscow City election commission, which called on citizens to go to the polls at the Duma elections on 4th December. This triggered protests from both the Russian opposition and from the European election monitors of the PACE delegation.
6. Voting and vote-counting
Given that the electoral code does not foresee the institution of domestic election observation by the organised civil society, the volunteers from the Association GOLOS carried out an informal monitoring mission as correspondents working for the newspaper “Grazhdanskij golos”. In the two weeks before election day, pressure was placed on the Association GOLOS, its representatives in the regions and on the correspondents by state organs – the state prosecution service of the Russian Federation, the chairman of the CEC, in the regions by the tax authorities and the heads of educational establishments where the correspondents study, by people working for the investigative committee and the domestic secret service FSB, as well as by state media, such as “Rossijskaya gazeta” or the television channel NTV. The aim of this pressure was to prevent the election monitoring. This monitoring was indeed prevented in 2 of the 40 regions where it was planned, namely in the cities of Orenburg and Vladivostok.
At the opening of the polling stations it was observed that a large number of the election commissions there hindered the correspondents’ entry into the voting room. On average, this affected 10 % of PECs nationwide (42 % in Ivanovo, 26 % in Kazan, 15 % in Lipetsk, 18 % in Moscow, 21 % in Nizhny Novgorod, 30 % in Samara and 17 % in Saratov); in 7 % of precincts, the election commissions prevented observers from viewing the voter lists and in 5 % of polling stations, the voter lists were not bound. In 48 % of PECs, information on the candidates’ income and capital assets was missing.
During the vote, the procedures for distributing the ballot papers were ignored in 5 % of polling stations. There is a remarkably high proportion of election commissions, for which the procedures for voting outside the polling station using mobile ballot boxes were not followed. In 13 % of cases, the ballot boxes were out of view of election observers, in 8% of the PECs, violations were noted during the compilation of the voter list containing the requests for a mobile vote, and in 7 % of PECs the observers were denied the opportunity to look at this list. In 6 % of PECs, the observers were not allowed to be present during voting outside the polling station.
At the vote-counting process, there was a particularly large number of violations of legally foreseen procedures. For example, the process regarding the stages of counting the ballot papers, sorting the ballot papers and counting the pre-sorted piles with the ballot papers was not adhered to in 24 , 26 and 25 % of PECs respectively. The delayed recording of the number of unused ballot papers and the delayed recording of the results of the count compared with the voter list was observed in 36 % of PECs. 32 % of PECs delayed entering the vote numbers for the individual candidates into the protocol. 39 % of precincts saw no final meeting of the election commission take place.
Amongst the other irregularities during the organisation of the vote and vote-counting processes were: the organised transportation of voters to the polling stations (6 % of precincts), the presence of unauthorised persons in the polling station (12 %) and the presence of representatives of the administrative organs or of the superior election commission at the vote count (13 % and 9 % respectively).
Particular emphasis should be placed on the following facts: 17 % of the election commissions saw insufficient working conditions created for the election observers; lists were used in 26 % of the election commissions, on which apparently those people were listed who wanted to vote outside the polling station (voters are sometimes put onto such lists without their agreement); the vote count had to be repeated in more than 40 % of the precincts and the election commissions in 17 % were unable to conduct a vote count without consulting their superior commission.
7. Complaints on election day
The correspondents determined that complaints were submitted in 28 % of PECs, which makes an average of 0.44 complaints per PEC. Accordingly, the total number of complaints can be estimated at tens of thousands. In 76 % of election commissions, the submission of a complaint was denied. In 23 % of commissions, complaints were, in contravention of the legally foreseen procedure, not noted in the election protocol. In 11 % of PECs, not one of the written complaints was checked.
In the territorial election commissions, around ten thousand complaints can also be estimated to have been submitted (on average there were 4.33 complaints per TEC), whilst at the closing meetings only 2/5 of all submitted complaints were checked. These figures show why all official reports mention a significantly lower number of complaints when compared with the election participants’ reports.
8. The election results
According to the official election result, ER received 49.32 % of the vote, the CPRF 19.19 %, SR 13.24 %, the LDPR 11.67 %, Yabloko 3.34 %, PR 0.97 % and PD 0.60 %.
The fact that the vote and vote-counting processes were accompanied by widespread falsifications is proven both by reports from citizens (members of the election commissions, election observers, media representatives and ordinary voters) who were witnesses to ballot stuffing and repeated voting and by discrepancies between the copies of election protocols from the voting precincts and the official results for these precincts. Statistical analyses also come to this conclusion.
On the website “Map of the results”, run by the Association GOLOS and the internet newspaper Gazeta.ru, information can be found on the discrepancies between protocol copies and official results. These figures are based on information provided by scanned or photographed copies of the protocols (the scans and photos can also be found there). Up until the end of January, 520 protocol copies from 28 regions, in which the results differ from the official figures, had been included in the “Map of the results”. The sum discrepancy in the results for ER, which can be drawn from these protocols, is a total of 142,000, or 272 per protocol. Wherever falsification took place, the difference was considerable: it stands at between 20 and 30 % of the votes cast to the benefit of the ER. The number of protocols collected is, however, insufficient to be able to provide the basis for an estimation on the extent to which the election result was distorted across the country by the falsification of protocols.
The extent to which additional votes were stuffed into ballot boxes can be estimated using statistical methods. According to such calculations, the artificial increase of the turnout alone (that is, without votes which were shifted around to the detriment of other parties) meant 15 million extra votes being given to the party “United Russia”, meaning that the real result should be at around 34 %.
The Association GOLOS has created a draft for an electoral code of the Russian Federation. This draft aims to make the electoral code currently in force more systematic, to remove the contradictions, omissions and poorly-defined regulations contained within it, as well as to remove double standards in the various laws. It should make legislation governing elections and referendums more clear and straightforward in its application.
At the same time, this draft aims to create a more democratic electoral code, to bring it into accordance with the constitution of the Russian Federation and with international electoral standards, to guarantee the protection of citizens’ rights, to remove conditions within election legislation which hinder the democratic development of the country and to reintroduce regulations which were abandoned without reason in the recent past.
As well as a comprehensive amendment of electoral legislation by introducing an electoral code, a radical change to the law on political parties is also required, which will lead to parties being able to be founded and legalised freely. The president has already taken one step in this direction with the outline of such a law in the State Duma.
As well as changing the laws, however, steps must also be taken towards ensuring that they are kept, for which the work of the security services and the courts also have to undergo a sweeping transformation.