Far-right European politicians have once again been invited as politically biased election observers to praise the disputed “all-Russian voting” on the constitutional amendments proposed by President Putin. The main aim of the vote is to provide additional legitimacy to a constitutional change in Russia which has already been approved by the Russian parliament dominated by the regime-friendly United Russia party. According to those changes, President Putin will be allowed to run for another two terms and to stay in power until 2036.
These “international experts” include European far-right politicians such as the Member of the German Bundestag Stefan Keuter and the Member of the Berlin Parliament Gunnar Lindemann (both from AfD, Germany) or the Member of the Italian Parliament Paolo Grimoldi (Lega Nord, Italy); pro-Kremlin lobbyists such as Alexander Rahr (Germany); representatives of pro-Russian organisations such as Dimitri de Kochko (France); journalists from propagandistic media such as Vávra Suk (Nya Tider, Italy) or Igor Damnjanović (IN4S, Montenegro); and others.
Russian authorities have explicitly not invited the international election observation mission of ODIHR-OSCE nor did they allow for domestic, non-partisan citizen election monitoring. The voting has been postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic and is now being held from 25 June to 1 July under the scrutiny of state-controlled observers of the so-called civic chambers.
Already in February 2020, the chair of Russia’s Central Election Committee (CEC) Ella Pamfilova declared that her office would not invite international observers to monitor the vote on the constitutional amendments because inviting them was not envisaged by the legislation in force. The CEC’s declaration was again repeated on 16 June by the CEC’s secretary, Maya Grishina. Indeed, only Russian federal laws on parliamentary and presidential elections mention and define international observation, which means that there is legal framework for international monitoring of presidential and parliamentary elections. At the same time, no Russian law forbids international observation of elections below the national level, but Russian institutions adhere to a rigid interpretation of the legislation: everything that is not legally explicitly authorised is, therefore, forbidden.
This rigid interpretation allows Russian authorities to not invite observers from established organisations such as the OSCE ODIHR, who are often critical of Russian practices of conducting elections and other plebiscites, but to invite friendly foreign politicians, journalists and lobbyists who are always ready to praise any election as democratic, open, free and fair instead. Due to the CEC’s position on international observation of Russian elections below the national level, these friendly foreign individuals are not officially referred to as “international observers”; rather, they are called “international experts”. Nevertheless, while reporting on these “experts” and their praise of the “all-Russian voting”, Russian media, including those controlled by the state, often use the term “observers”, thus creating a false impression of the developments around the plebiscite.
Russian law also heavily restricts domestic citizen election observation and does not allow for direct accreditation of non-governmental actors as election monitors. Therefore, there is hardly any independent election observation in Russia - neither by domestic nor by international observers. Any international “observers” of this “all-Russian voting” are not part of any official international election observation mission and their statements should not be considered as legitimate assessments of the conduct of the vote.
EPDE repeats its recent calls to European national parliaments and to regional parliaments for stronger transparency regulations on the finances of parliamentarians and for respective changes to their Codes of Conduct. Regulations and Codes of Conduct should be upgraded and adopted to the current political challenges. They should force parliamentarians to report properly and timely on the receipt of any financial donations or gifts. They should contribute to the transparency of their international political activities and should allow sanctions in case of conflict of interest.