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05.12.2021, . 12:39

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Section I: Pre-Election Campaign Concerns

Although the Duma elections were widely viewed, with some qualification, as free and fair, the pre-election campaign period was fraught with excessive abuses and illustrated a need for major improvement in the conduct of elections throughout Russia. The most apparent improprieties were as follows:

- arbitrary application of election laws - especially concerning the registration/exclusion of candidates;
- bias and manipulation within the mass media being used to influence the decisions made by voters;
- inappropriate economic and political pressure being used by forces within the state infrastructure (especially regional authorities) to attempt to produce desired voting results;
- lack of clarity with regard to financial disclosure requirements and reporting, and the capricious use of sanctions for discrepancies in disclosure documentation.

I. Nomination and Registration of Candidates

Candidates for the Duma had to agree to be nominated by Associations, groups of voters, or they could nominate themselves. Most of those elected to the Duma had been placed on Electoral Association (political party or bloc) lists for the proportional vote nationally, or had been nominated by an association for the single-mandate districts.1 However, 106 or 24% of 450 Duma deputies elected on December 19 were independently nominated or self-nominated.

Candidates seeking election to the Duma in the December 19, 1999 election had to follow a rather detailed process outlined in the Basic Guarantees and the Duma Election Laws, including a complex set of personal and campaign financial disclosure elements. Most of these requirements did not exist in previous Duma elections. Candidates also had to use the previous method of collecting a minimum number of valid signatures of voters to qualify or they could use the new method of making a financial deposit to secure a position on the ballot. Once submitted, the nomination documents had to be reviewed by an election commission prior to a candidate becoming officially registered and thus placed on the election ballot.

Candidate Registration and Arbitrary Decisions

While candidates were nominated to be placed on the ballot, only until the election commission accepted such nomination was the candidate considered to be officially registered and thus an official candidate for the Duma. Under the law, the Central Election Commission and District Election Commissions were charged with the responsibility of reviewing and verifying signatures and qualifications, financial deposits, and, perhaps most challenging, the financial holdings of the candidates.

The registration process was extremely problematic in the pre-election phase of this Duma election. Some candidates complained that, for political reasons, their registration for the ballot was denied, delayed, or scrutinized more closely. While most of the publicity regarding rejections centered on the Central Election Commission, particularly the controversy surrounding the problems with the registration of Vladimir Zhirinosky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia bloc, there appeared to be many controversial rejections made of candidates at the district election commission level. According to CEC Chairman Alexander Veshniakov, «lots of the district election commissions' decisions about the refusal in registration were not convincing or even arguable.» Serious allegations of pressure by the regional administration on district election commissions to deny registrations were also made.

Examples of alleged administrative pressure upon regional electoral commissions and courts to harass or hinder opposition candidates were recorded throughout Russia, and specific instances of such incidents were recorded in Omsk, Kursk, Sakhalin, Primorskii Krai, and in the Republics of Kalmykia, Tatartstan, and Bashkortostan. In Bashkortostan, the current Duma Deputy Aleksandr Arinin was denied registration by the local electoral commission and local courts even after the CEC had overruled the decision of the local electoral commission. In Primorskii Krai, Viktor Cherepkov, former Mayor of Vladivostok and one of the chief opponents of Governor Evgenii Nazdratenko, was deregistered in both mayoral and single-mandate contests for minor and disputable financial reporting irregularities. In Omsk, a candidate had been denied registration repeatedly even though he had made successful appeals to the CEC.

In addition to election commissions, it was also alleged that the courts were used in a manner to harass associations and candidates. Many such court challenges focused on minute details in nomination documents and stipulations in the law.

The complexity of the law and the difficulty verifying information provided by candidates placed a difficult burden on the Central and District Election Commissions during the registration process. It is clear that changes should be made to improve the process for future Duma elections so that candidate documents could be verified in a more fair and timely manner and that arbitrary decisions of election commissions could be discouraged.

For Consideration

A thorough review should be made of all the candidates who were nominated for the Duma election whose registration was rejected by election commissions. All complaints made by candidates should be carefully scrutinized as well as any court action or decisions of higher level commissions regarding appeals of registration rejections. It should be determined if a pattern existed whereby certain political parties or movements had an unusual number of rejections, the rejections resulted in only one or two primary parties or movements left on the ballot, or if certain election commissions rejected an unusually high number of candidates.

After such analysis, it should be determined whether the following actions need to be taken:

- Changing the disclosure requirements in the law to lessen nomination/registration requirements or to provide more clarity for candidates and election commissions.
- Requiring the Central Election Commission to provide more specific rules and procedures regarding the eligibility for registration of candidates.
- Providing additional training of election commissions regarding the determination of eligibility for registration of candidates.
- Accelerating the appeal process for candidates whose registration has been rejected.
- Implementing sanctions against election commissions that unduly deny a candidate's registration or that ignore court and CEC decisions or act on them in an untimely manner.

II. Mass Media Coverage

The Duma Election Law attempts, in a fairly thorough way, to regulate the activities of the media and ensure that the media behave in a responsible way. However, in relation to the media, there are areas of the law that lack clarity and could be detrimental to the electoral process. Although regulation of the media is necessary to prevent severe abuses and fraud, it should not be used as a straightjacket to restrict the traditional role of the media in democratic elections.

In so far as the law provides equal conditions on free and paid political advertising for all candidates and parties to express their views in the media and to attract voters to its side, the law can be said to be effectively fulfilling its function in promoting fair play. The problem lies in the fact that the law does not make the distinction between two very important but totally different activities - political advertising and coverage of events.

Political advertising should be distinguished from media coverage (i.e. news reports, information and analysis), which is the job of the media. Under Russia's current electoral law, however, the role of the media is not clear and political advertising is not distinguished from political coverage. Although there is nothing in the law that disqualifies journalists from reporting in the customary manner, the CEC's provisions and clarifications have indicated that journalists cannot participate in electoral agitation; that is, they cannot «encourage or aim to encourage voters to participate in the election and to vote for or against» registered candidates or parties.

Restricting media coverage of elections by including media coverage under the rubric of prohibited activities under the terminology of electoral agitation is problematic when considering the role of the media. If a journalist cannot say anything «for» or «against» a candidate or party this negates his professional duty to act as the «watchdog» of public interest. The traditional role of journalism during elections in established democracies is to provide accurate information and to ask probing questions of candidates or representatives of parties in order to reveal any hypocrisy or deception on their part (which they can get away with in political advertising) and to study the background of candidates and parties so that can give a proper assessment and overview of their policies and statements, good or bad. Thus, if the advertising agent works in the interests of the candidate, the journalist works in the interest of the voter. A voter cannot be expected to be an «expert» and must therefore rely on others, whose job it is, to get accurate information

Neither the Law on the Election of Deputies to the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, nor its implementation by the Central Electoral Commission was able to prevent the media from conducting an extensive propaganda battle on behalf of certain candidates and a profound campaign to besmirch the name of other candidates.

As we saw in the parliamentary campaign, the well intentioned attempt by the Central Electoral Commission to restrict the media from participating in agitation so as, presumably, to prevent the illegitimate practice of purveying propaganda (supporting specific candidates/parties or actively attempting to weaken candidates/parties), did not have the desired effect.

Of course, the CEC's intention to prevent, as far as possible, a biased and partisan media from manipulating the elections is understandable. In the past two years of information wars, cynical «kompromat» and other forms of negative journalism provided ample evidence of the abuses of journalistic practices in the Russian federation. Unfortunately, this state of affairs has come about because of a lack of regulation in the sphere of concentration of media ownership, the influence of media moguls, pressure from state and regional administrations and the recent financial difficulties of many media outlets that make them susceptible to influence in order to survive.

However, as we have seen during the Duma elections, attempting to curb the media in such an all-encompassing way is counterproductive. It is also untenable because it goes against the fundamental right of free speech and free media in a democracy. It was precisely disagreement with the CEC's interpretation of agitation that made the Ministry of the Press, Teleradio Broadcasting and Mass Communications refuse to implement the CEC's request to issue a warning to ORT for its programming (e.g. The Sergei Dorenko Show, which had a clear political intent to destroy the name of the leadership of Fatherland-All Russia); a principled stance, whatever the politics behind it. When the Ministry did finally issue a warning, late in the campaign on 14 December, it was addressed to both ORT and TV Center (which, supported the Fatherland-All Russia political association and was critical of the President and «Unity»), although TV Center can hardly be accused of having offended in its coverage to the same degree as ORT. RTR (which carried out a campaign similar to ORTs as it is a state controlled entity), also a prime culprit for abusing its journalistic license, got away without any warnings.

Despite the harsh potential of the law and the CEC's clarifications, which could have been restrictive, in practice the CEC did not unduly interfere with the media. The problem, rather, was that those decisions that were taken were random and arbitrary. It appears that CEC's aim was more in the realm of scare tactics, which, unfortunately, did not scare the worst offenders. Nevertheless, imperfect laws remain dangerous if democratic rights can be manipulated at will. Moreover, the Supreme Court's decision of November 19, 1999, in the case against the journalist Alexander Minkin, strengthens the CEC's hand by reinforcing the position that journalists cannot take part in agitation. The problems of the Duma campaign are therefore carried over to the presidential campaign. The CEC, however, is obliged only to implement the law; it is up to the lawmakers in the Duma to amend those laws if it has concern for democratic institutions. 2

For consideration

That a journalist should provide information and analysis is hardly contestable in a democratic society. The only proviso is that the information is accurate and the analysis sound. The fact that there are unscrupulous journalists and that information can be manipulated (i.e. concealed advertising) does not to take away from the value of journalism as such.

- In this case the Central Electoral Commission should give those journalists, who retain a sense of pride in their independence and impartiality, the chance to do their jobs properly without the threat of sanctions. The Judicial Chamber for Information Disputes of the Presidential Administration made the same point in their statement of 7 December 1999 arguing that elements of agitation in media coverage should not be used as grounds for banning journalist participation in the electoral campaign.
- The CEC would do well, and relieve itself of a headache at the same time, if it made a serious appeal to the media community to regulate their own activities. After all, many of the cases of improper journalistic practice are matters of ethics and conduct. In Russia there are a number of well-formulated and principled journalistic codes, drafted and approved by journalists themselves. The Union of Journalists has its own code of ethics, as well as a Grand Jury, which was the only self-regulatory journalistic body that issued a public reprimand during the parliamentary campaign. The Charter of Television and Radio Broadcasters was signed by most of the top stations last year but, unfortunately, its signatories did not once invoke it during the parliamentary campaign despite massive violations of taste and decency. There is also the Russian National Association of Telebroadcasters' Memorandum on elections, NTV's Instructions for its journalists and an Advertising Code. If the task of bringing together disparate journalists and their vested interests appears overwhelmingly difficult today, there is still no better time to start than during a crisis of confidence. Journalistic professionalism and independence is, after all, a common interest. In other countries journalists tend to abide by their codes precisely because they don't want to be regulated by any outside force, which may not understand the finer points of their profession and may represent opposing interests.
- If the CEC challenged the media to abide by their own rules, it would be doing the media a service. The media really has only two options: self-destruction, if the excesses of the parliamentary campaign are repeated, or self-regulation.

III. Inappropriate Political and Economic Pressure Used by State (and Regional) Infrastructure

The Duma Election Law is explicit in prohibiting the use of official influence on the outcome of the elections - Article 1 states that «No one shall exert any influence on a citizen of the Russian Federation in order to compel him/her to participate or not to participate in the election in a free expression of a citizen's will.» The Law also includes several provisions that forbid the use of state power or the use of position to influence voting.

Throughout the period of the pre-election campaign for seats in the State Duma, undue influence by federal and regional political authorities - and by other institutions, such as state ministries, powerful enterprises and military leaders - was a pervasive problem. Influence on the campaign process most often included pressure on local and regional election commissions, courts, political party structures, and mass media, with the aim of restricting the effectiveness of political opponents or influencing public opinion (examples of these efforts are covered above under the topic of Registration of Candidates and the Use of Mass Media - other areas in which political influence is used to effect the election process).

Russian and Western media have reported numerous instances of official influence on regional campaigns. A few examples include:

- In Bashkortostan, President and OVR member Murtaza Rakhimov banned a November broadcast of Sergei Dorenko's ORT program, which was harshly critical of Yuri Luzhkov and other OVR leaders. In December, local police received orders to confiscate campaign literature from candidates not supported by the republic's authorities, and various materials from the KPRF and the local Rus political association were seized. Republican authorities claimed that the seizures were in conjunction with the «Whirlwind» anti-terrorist operation in effect since the August-September bombings in Moscow and Dagestan, but they were an obvious attempt to mute opposition voices.
- Not all lower level election commissions acted in an independent and transparent manner during the election process. While hard evidence of administrative pressure is not proven, the fact that the SECs of Moscow City and Moscow Oblast, Bashkotarstan, and Krasnodar had the most complaints with regards to registration of candidates (40 in total) is indicative of the selective nature in the way the SECs accomplished their work. More than half of these complaints were overturned by the CEC.
- The SEC of Kalmykia sought to overturn the will of the people by disqualifying an elected State Duma Deputy for District 14. Ms. Burataeva, a well-known TV anchorwoman was elected, even beating Yuri Luzhkov's wife, who was running in the same district. Ms. Burataeva is also an opponent of Kirsan Ilumginov, President of Kalmykia. The decision of the SEC rested mainly on technicalities - such as her presentation of the documents required for her to assume office one day later than the deadline. Her appeal of the SEC decision to the CEC was ruled positively on February 4, and she is now a State Duma deputy.

Many of the infractions of electoral law from the part of administrative and executive authorities stem from a combination of lack of legal clarity and proper financial independence from local regimes. This is not an unusual situation, and methods to combat corruption and local influences can be addressed through the use of mass media, investigative authority, and consistent decisions in such cases. For more details on corrupting influences in the electoral process, refer to Corruption in Politics by Professor Michael Pinto-Dushinsky, which was published by IFES/Russia in 1999.

In addition, the abuse of power to influence Russian elections occurs due to the enormous state infrastructure that was left in the wake of the collapse of the Communist system, the existence of an underdeveloped mass media that is not prepared to play its traditional role as the 4th Estate, the lack of private watchdog organizations, and the peculiarities of regional political situations.

For Consideration

Public awareness of the influence on the part of government authorities contributes to the cynicism of the entire electoral process. On Election Day, the conduct of the elections could be a model of the democratic process, but public confidence in the election results is lessened due to it being common knowledge that the authorities have manipulated the process during the pre-election period to ensure certain outcomes.

After a review and analysis of election-related activities on the part of local, regional and federal authorities, it should be determined whether the following actions need to be taken:

- Providing sufficient oversight of governmental entities, possibly including the establishment of a CEC department specifically to deal with federal and regional electoral law enforcement, in coordination with sub-level commissions.
- Increasing the mass media's capacity to assess and report government accountability. Russian mass media outlets need better training in investigative journalism and its role in government accountability. Moreover, laws or regulations seeking to improve media independence may need to be instituted.
- Promoting private, non-profit watchdog organizations to be independent forces for civic advocacy and government oversight.

IV. Lack of Clarity with Regard to Campaign Finance and Disclosure

Regulation and disclosure of campaign finance activity of candidates and electoral associations is far more clearly developed than ever before in the 1999 Duma Election Law and in new regulations adopted by the Central Election Commission in preparation for the State Duma election. In principle, Russian elections are conducted under a relatively sophisticated campaign finance regulatory and disclosure regime.

As practiced in the 1999 Duma elections, however, the political finance system was not widely respected and failed to facilitate monitoring of campaign funds by political participants, civil society or the public. As with many aspects of the election law and regulations, these provisions' function was widely viewed as purely for legal enforcement against violations. IFES acknowledges that the election commissions were extremely overextended and short of resources and that the time frame for proper review was short. Thus, as cited in an earlier section of this report, enforcement by election commissions was spotty, and oftentimes arbitrary, unfair and biased, resulting in some candidates' and parties' registrations either denied or subsequently cancelled in a seemingly capricious or politically motivated manner.

These first reports tended to set a tone lacking respect for or confidence in financial disclosure as a monitoring mechanism, particularly since it was obvious that many candidates had hidden assets and income from election reporting (necessitated, presumably, by their other reports to taxing authorities).

The obvious inaccuracy on the required pre-election reports of electoral associations and candidates combined with a general lack of appreciation within Russian society, especially journalists, for the idea of campaign finance disclosure as a separate value in elections resulted in the issue of campaign finance playing an insignificant role in the elections (apart from the enforcement cases already mentioned).

For Consideration

The primary reasons for campaign finance disclosure are to provide as much information as possible to the voters about the candidates they will be considering as they cast their ballots and to ensure that all candidates are following the rules equally. Thus, it is vitally important that the information be complete and disclosed to the public for easy access as soon as possible.

After reviewing and comparing the reasons for the disqualification of candidates by the CEC and the DEC's, a determination should be made to implement one or more of the following actions:

- Disclosing candidate information submitted on nomination papers, including financial disclosures, within 48 hours after registration has been confirmed.
- Changing the penalties for non-disclosure or false disclosure of personal and/or campaign finances from only disqualification of candidacy (»life or death») to a range of penalties from modest monetary fines for minor breaches to heavier fines for more serious infractions to disqualification for major violations.
- Providing financial disclosure information to the general public in a user-friendly format, through which automated searches could be conducted, at a minimum, by name, donor, candidate, region and electoral association.
- Significantly raising the ceiling for campaign finance expenditures as it is currently so low (candidates could not spend more than $65,000 and political association or blocs could not spend more than $1,700,000 for their party lists) that it acts as an encouragement for political associations and candidates to pursue other and technically illegal means of financing their campaigns.

For more details on IFES' recommendations on Campaign Finance issues, see the IFES Compilation of Campaign Finance Materials and Recommendations (1999), which details concerns, issues, and options for lawmakers.

1 An Electoral Association is a political party, political organization or movement that is formed under the law and registered with the Ministry of Justice at least one year prior to the election. Such associations may also voluntarily join forces with one or more political associations to form electoral blocs to field candidates for the Duma. Such blocs are treated as associations.

2 The investigative journalist Aleksandr Minkin took the CEC to court over its Clarification to the Law on the Election of Deputies to the State Duma prohibiting participants other than registered candidates and parties from taking part in pre-electoral agitation in the media. The Supreme Court rejected Minkin's complaint on 19 November. Although formally the CEC had won its case, it was generally felt that Minkin had not prepared his case competently enough. Some residual doubt therefore remains in the legal argument, in particular as the Supreme Court refused to hear the case under a revisory procedure that would have involved the whole collegium.

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