Austrian MP disputes charge of flawed Russia vote

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 08, 2012 9:34 AM
Austrian MP disputes charge of flawed Russia vote

VIENNA (Reuters) - An Austrian member of parliament who helped monitor this month's Russian presidential election accused human rights groups on Thursday of political bias for calling the vote unfairly skewed in favor of victor Vladimir Putin.

Election observers had said Putin, who won about 64 percent of the vote according to official data, was given a clear advantage over his rivals by the media and that state resources supported his bid for a third presidential term.

The observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) also called for alleged electoral violations to be thoroughly investigated.

"I feel like I was not at the same election as the OSCE," said Stefan Schennach, a Social Democrat member of Austria's upper house of parliament and a member of the PACE monitoring committee.

"I have to say sorry, it seems to be a politically motivated action. The OSCE probably wrote the report released after the election before the election," he told Reuters.

Asked why he thought this, he said: "The OSCE is no boys' choir. It is also political."

A spokesman for the OSCE's election monitoring arm in Warsaw defended the report, which he said was based on the observations of large numbers of monitors deployed across the country.

He noted that it was compiled jointly by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, which has a long-term election observation mission in Russia, PACE and the OSCE parliamentary assembly.

"While it is perfectly possible for an individual observer to go to a few polling stations where everything is fine, that doesn't mean that there are no problems in this election. I think our report is very factual in pointing out what the shortcomings were," the spokesman said.

The report highlighted positive elements as well, and took into account not only election day but the entire electoral process, including the campaign environment, candidates' access to media, and the work of the election administration, he noted.

Schennach, 55, said that finding fault with the Russian vote because it was clear beforehand who would win neglected the fact that the same was true in presidential elections in Austria or Germany.

While the pre-election period was marked by pro-Putin pressure and the president-elect was close to state television, the same could be said of politicians in Austria, he said.

"There is of course another dimension (in Russia) and the pressure is different, no doubt. That is not the form of democracy we desire, but election day was at a high level," Schennach said.

He said it was inappropriate to draw sweeping conclusions that elections were skewed based on problems in "perhaps 300 of 95,000 voting stations" and deep-seated democratic deficits in the southern Chechnya region of Russia.

The issues paled compared with what he called flawed 2008 elections in Georgia.

"I was in Georgia where the election fraud was blatant and we election monitors were just in the process of filling out forms after hours of observing the elections.

"At 5 a.m. the next day (an OSCE monitoring team leader) appears before the cameras and declares the election was in order. Something is not right," he said.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Tim Pearce)