Fri, Nov 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Russia reduces poll observers, rejects critics from West

AFP AND NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOSCOW

The head of Russia's Central Elections Commission (CEC) yesterday rejected criticism from the West for reducing the number of foreign observers in parliamentary elections in December.

"It's more than a sufficient number to ensure the normal process of the elections," Vladimir Churov said in an interview published in the Gazeta daily after Moscow slashed the number of foreign election observers.

Russia on Wednesday announced it was inviting just 70 observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), more than five times fewer than in the 2003 elections.

An OSCE spokeswoman said the reduction could "seriously limit" election monitoring.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said the US administration was "concerned and disappointed."

"Any conditions that are placed on them are of concern to us," she said, referring to the monitors. "And we will certainly be bringing this up with the Russians."

But Churov said other countries sometimes invite even fewer observers from the OSCE to their elections. "It doesn't change anything, those elections are still considered democratic," he said.

Russia had already hindered the work of the monitors by delaying the necessary invitation to them.

Urdur Gunnarsdottir, a representative of the monitoring arm, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said in a statement: "We need to consider the implications of those restrictions, as they may seriously limit the possibility for a meaningful observation according to our standard methodology for full-scale election observation missions."

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian officials said they were not canceling the mission, merely scaling it back to an appropriate size.

"Russia does not need to invite an army of observers because the Russian electoral system is one of the most advanced in the world," said Igor Borisov, a CEC official.

The move to reduce the presence of monitors reflects the Kremlin's growing control over the election process under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin has already pushed through changes in the election laws that have made it all but impossible for most opposition politicians to win seats in the next parliament. Putin's party, United Russia, which dominates the government, is expected to win an even greater parliamentary majority in December.

Last month, Russia circulated a proposal at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to limit the work of the election observers in the former Soviet Union by reducing the size of missions and preventing them from issuing public statements about electoral conduct in the days after the vote.

The monitoring group has regularly dispatched observation teams to elections throughout the states of the former Soviet Union since the collapse of communism.

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