Election legislation does not stand still in its development. And despite the fact that there is less than half a year left before the cycle of federal elections begins, the law “On Basic Guarantees …” is still undergoing amendments. There is very little time left for enhancing such an impressive amount of legislative norms. In order not to re-invent the wheel, the Institute for Election Systems Development proposed to conduct a number of seminars, in the course of which chairpersons of election committees of different levels would be able to exchange their experience of conducting elections in accordance with the new legislation, to discuss the problems of its application and to find possible solutions.
The first seminar was organized and conducted together with the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation and the Election Commission of Saratov Oblast in Saratov on 5-6th June 2003. The participants of the seminar represented the Central Election Commission of the RF and quite a number of regions: Chuvashia Republic, Mordovia Republic, Volgograd, Kaliningrad, Penza and Ulyanovsk Oblast (chairpersons of SECs); Vice-Speaker of Saratov Oblast Legislative Assembly; representatives of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, Department of Internal Affaires, the Oblast Court, mass media. Chairpersons and their deputies of practically all territorial committees of Saratov Oblast attended the seminar. Special attention was paid to the new legislation requirements towards interaction between election commissions and state power bodies, law-enforcement agencies, local self-government, political parties and mass media during the pre-election period and the campaign itself.
The seminar provided a great opportunity for representatives of different branches of power and of election authorities to sit at the same table in order to define and to resolve many problems concerning the application of the new law. During the first day special attention was paid to the issues of the registration of voters. There still isn’t an efficient mechanism of interaction between election committees and bodies exercising the registration of citizens. In practice it leads to the situation when entire blocks of flats are sometimes missing from election registers, which can have a significant effect on election results.
Representatives of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Oblast court shared valuable data about electoral disputes and making the participants of the election process (including members of election commissions of different levels) liable for the violation of election law.
The issues of election commissions formation were repeatedly brought to the discussion in the course of the seminar. There were certain concerns about the requirement of the new law on representatives of political parties forming no less than a half of members of a precinct election commission, as this can have a negative impact on the efficiency of commissions. Indeed, the law imposes certain limits on labour compensation for election commissions members, which makes this intense and difficult work even less attractive. Therefore political parties are responsible for sending well-trained people to election commissions, people who are ready to work round the clock, not just to control the work of others. Chairpersons of election commissions appealed to the representatives of regional associations of political parties present at the seminar. The law “On political parties” defined these public organizations as the only ones authorized to nominate lists of candidates in federal and regional elections. At the same time the law attributed special responsibility to the parties connected with their preferential position in the election process. Unfortunately not all the political parties have so far realized it.
The discussion of issues of interaction between election commissions and other participants of the election process continued on the second day of the seminar at various sections.
During the “Political Parties and the Election Process” section A.I. Tur, the Head of the CEC Department for interaction with election associations and federal power bodies, drew the attention of the parties regional branches representatives to certain specifics of their activities during the elections under the new requirements the election legislation. Issues of government officials held liable for their membership in a political party, of ensuring equal conditions for all parties, of partisan activities between the elections were also discussed. The election administrators repeatedly appealed to the political parties representatives encouraging them to begin the study of election legislation in advance not leaving it for the last day. The timelines of election campaign are very compressed and the election law is very formal, therefore even minor inaccuracies can lead to a revocation of registration of a candidate.
A pretty active debate took place at the section “Media and Elections”. IESD experts revealed possible reefs of media participation in elections, as well as strict measures against violations of election legislation and legal ways of non-admission of such violations.
Adjourning the sessions and summing up the seminar the participants worked out resolutions aimed at the improving interaction and coordination between different participants of election process with the objective of ensuring fair and transparent elections.
The Institute for Election Systems Development is grateful to all the participants of the seminar for their contribution, for taking an active part in the discussion of various issues. Meetings like that give a real opportunity to resolve and to even prevent many problems. The transience and formality of the election process as stipulated by strict laws, unfortunately do not allow learning by one’s mistakes. Therefore it was more than once emphasized in the course of the seminar that similar meetings should be held more often.
Executive Program Officer, IESD.