WASHINGTON – Today, the Co-Chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Commission), Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), noted with regret Russia’s movement away from democratic norms – as reflected in the December 2 elections to the Russian State Duma — and hoped that Russia would not become a “Belarus writ large.”
“It is regrettable that the conduct of Russia’s State Duma elections were fraught with numerous violations of widely accepted democratic standards,” said Chairman Hastings, “especially in the pre-election campaign period, which at times made Russia look like Belarus writ large.” I truly hope that this will not be Russia’s future direction.” “Despite his denials, it would seem clear that President Putin allowed government officials to use their coercive power to produce the desired turnout and results. I realize that a large number of Russian citizens genuinely admire and support Mr. Putin for the economic progress and political stability he has accomplished, and I respect the choice they have made. Nevertheless, true democracies, and Russia claims to be one, do not make a mockery of elections.”
“President Putin was running public approval numbers that would be the envy of the heads of state of any modern democracy.” There was no need to seize opposition literature, confiscate computers, intimidate and beat up campaign workers. The tactics used by Russian officials to assure a heavy vote total in favor of Mr. Putin and his “United Russia” Party, does not bode well for democratic governance and civil liberties in Russia’s future,” Co-Chairman Cardin further remarked.
Russian and international media have reported that President Putin and his “United Russia” party won approximately 63 percent of the vote. Their nearest competitor, the Communist Party, gained approximately 11 percent of the vote. News reports described “unprecedented administrative pressure and harassment” (Washington Post, November 30, 2007), including in some cases physical attacks, employed throughout Russia by authorities loyal to the Kremlin to disrupt the opposition and bring out the vote for President Putin and “United Russia.”
International observers were quoted as finding the elections failing to meet democratic standards, because the government abused its power to sway the vote in favor of President Putin and his “United Russia” Party, while harassing opposition parties and candidates. According to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Mr. Goran Lennmarker, the vote “failed to meet many of the commitments and standards that we have.”
Belarus, Russia’s western neighbor, is ruled by the authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, and has been described by the U.S. State Department as “the last dictatorship in Europe.”