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Gazeta, January 27, 2004

Free, but Not Fair

By Olga Redichkina

Yesterday the winter meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg was held in Russian. The Russian delegation, which chaired the meeting, insisted that it be convened in Russian. "Such moves are permitted by protocol. Put on your headphones and listen," said Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's international affairs committee, on the eve of the meeting.

The meeting discussed Russia, including the organization and results of the parliamentary elections in December. David Atkinson, head of the PACE monitoring group, still considers that "the elections were free but not fair." Atkinson reported: "Russia's progress towards democracy has not changed direction, but has certainly slowed down." The official's belief is based, inter alia, on "the biased coverage provided by three state TV channels."

Atkinson said: "It affected the whole campaign. It is a retrograde move. However, voters could vote for whomever they preferred." Communist Party (CPRF) leader Gennady Zyuganov promised before the PACE meeting to show Europe "what they have not seen." Zyuganov refused to elaborate on the kind of evidence he intended to present to the PACE. Initially, the CPRF had intended to bring to Strasbourg the results of the alternative vote count provided by the CPRF's FairGame system.

Judging by this count, the Yabloko party and Union of Right-Wing Forces did overcome the 5% threshold and the results of United Russia were at least 3% lower than the official figures. However, Zyuganov did not give any specifics in his report, preferring vague phrases about "dirty campaign tactics." The CPRF leader urged the PACE "not to exaggerate Russia's achievements along the path to democracy," and informed it that Russia was being transformed into a police state. Observers are now guessing whether all these emotions will be reflected in the resolution to be passed this Friday.

Some observers do not rule out the possibility that the Russian delegation may still shock Strasbourg. LDPR Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is attending the PACE meeting, intends to introduce Oleg Malyshkin, his former bodyguard - now the presidential candidate for the LDPR. Two months ago Malyshkin got involved in a fist-fight with participants in campaign debates on television. Zhirinovsky and his protege will hold a joint press conference at the Palace of the Council of Europe today.


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

Gazeta, January 27, 2004

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