“We very much regret that our observation of the forthcoming elections in Russia will not be possible,” said ODIHR Director Matteo Mecacci. “But the ability to independently determine the number of observers necessary for us to observe effectively and credibly is essential to all international observation. The insistence of the Russian authorities on limiting the number of observers we could send without any clear pandemic-related restrictions has unfortunately made today’s step unavoidable.”
Mecacci informed Russia’s Central Election Commission and the permanent delegation of the Russian Federation to the OSCE, while OSCE PA President Margareta Cederfelt notified the Head of the Russian Delegation to the Assembly. Both institutions had been invited to observe the vote scheduled for 17-19 September, but were subsequently restricted to sending 50 and 10 observers, respectively. The Russian authorities cited the sanitary-epidemiological situation in the Russian Federation as the reason for the limitations. At present, no pandemic-related entry restrictions or rules about operating and moving within the country would seem to prevent the deployment of a full election observation mission in line with ODIHR’s initial assessment.
ODIHR and the OSCE PA respect the challenges that countries currently face in preventing the spread of the virus and were prepared to abide by all official pandemic-related requirements and regulations. Both OSCE institutions have made every effort since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic to continue to deliver on their mandates for election observation, and have independently deployed observation missions in numerous countries over the past year and a half.
ODIHR had requested clarity on the requirements for international visitors, including observers, in order to determine how to deploy the election observation mission in the format and size recommended. The responses provided by the Russian authorities did not offer sufficient clarification as to why the limitations were needed to prevent the spread of the virus when other preventative measures could be taken.
“I am very disappointed that limitations imposed by the national authorities prevent the OSCE from providing the Russian voters with a transparent and authoritative assessment of their elections, as we have been doing consistently since 1993,” said Cederfelt. “The OSCE was limited to sending only a small fraction of the observers we had intended, and this simply does not enable us to carry out our work in an effective and thorough manner. We look forward to a time when the authorities will once again welcome independent observers from the OSCE for future election processes, and we stand ready to continue this important work.”
Based on the findings of a needs assessment carried out some months before an election takes place, ODIHR determines the size and format of observation necessary to provide an independent, credible assessment. For the upcoming parliamentary elections in Russia, the needs assessment mission deployed in May to June this year found that a mission with 80 long-term observers and 420 short-term observers was needed.
Both ODIHR and the Parliamentary Assembly have been preparing to deploy observers for several months now, in close contact with the Russian authorities. Observers from at least one of the OSCE institutions have been present to observe every parliamentary election in Russia since 1993.
“The authorities’ decision to severely restrict the number of observers would undermine the effectiveness and credibility of OSCE election observation. I therefore fully agree with the decision to stand up for independent observation based on our own assessments,” noted OSCE PA Secretary General Roberto Montella. “Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the OSCE PA, like ODIHR, has carefully refined its processes and has safely deployed several hundred observers in numerous countries without such limitations being imposed, and I am confident that we would have done so once again.”
Both institutions repeated their willingness to observe future elections in Russia when conditions allow them to carry out a comprehensive, accurate and credible observation in line with their independent mandates.