The lack of democratic guarantees for the parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2011 in Russia dominated the contributions of experts and MEPs at a public hearing held by the Foreign Affairs Committee and the EP Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday.
“The OSCE mission has not yet been invited to monitor the elections, a lot of pressure has been applied to all election observers, journalists’ ID cards are being confiscated and the opposition parties are not represented in the Electoral Commission”, warned Lilia Shibanova, Executive Director of Golos, a Russian association established to defend electoral rights of citizens and to foster civil society in the country.
The European Parliament rapporteur for the future EU-Russia Agreement Hannes Swoboda (S&D, PL), wondered how far democracy has been really developed in the Russian Federation. “Democratic elections consist of having a real and free competition. Is this the case of the upcoming elections?”, he asked. Director of the EU-Russia Centre Fraser Cameron gave a clear reply: “There is zero chance of having free elections. The Putin-Medvedev tandem is not the main problem. It is vital to change the system”.
Co-leader of the Russian opposition party People’s Freedom Mikhail Kasyanov highlighted the difficulties in registering political parties to run for the Duma elections, stressing that the political situation is growing ever worse. “We do not believe in this process. The Constitution establishes obligations and rules, but they have been violated by the Government. Medvedev promised changes three years ago but they did not happen. Just nice words”, he said.
“We have to define these issues better and see whether to put the blame on the system or on the people who support it”, said Vytautas Landsbergis (EPP, LT).
Werner Schulz (Greens/EFA, DE), expressed concern at the people’s failure to oppose deception in the elections. A key problem that the Russian population has to overcome is its own apathy and the risk of a low turnout. “This is dangerous. Russian people do not believe in change”, Mr Cameron pointed out. In the same vein, Mr Kasyanov added that people are still not prepared to fight for their democratic rights in Russia. “We do not have the culture of fighting on the streets. It is even possible, according to the surveys, that extreme nationalistic parties may take up to 12% of the ballots”, he warned.
Progress in negotiations under way for a Modernization Agreement with Russia and more importantly for a new EU-Russia Partnership Agreement, together with the latest European Parliament resolution on this issue, are signs that the EU is moving in the right direction, most MEPs said.
“The EU is beginning to speak more clearly, with one voice. Co-ordination between the institutions is now much better”, Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE, ET), stressed. Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI) backed up this perception and stressed the importance of also keeping closer contacts directly with NGOs and civil society organisations.