Foreign observers struggle to monitor Russia vote

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A handful of foreign election observers scrambled to monitor voting across Russia’s vast territory on Sunday, with the chief of one mission admitting there was little his team could do.

“As observers we can only visit a very small fraction of the 96,000 polling stations across Russia,” Goran Lennmarker, president of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly said.

The West’s main election monitoring body the ODIHR cancelled its mission to Russia, citing visa delays and other hurdles. This left less than 80 Western observers to watch the vote over 11 time zones in the world’s biggest country.

Lennmarker, a Swedish parliamentarian, carried out spot checks in Moscow, while his team of 40 politicians drawn from OSCE states checked eight cities from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to St Petersburg in western Russia.

Another 37 politicians from the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly were monitoring, along with 142 observers from former Soviet states.

The ex-Soviet observers said they were satisfied well before voting ended. “Ample conditions have been created in Russia for voters to express their will,” Kazakh deputy parliamentary speaker Bakytzhan Zhumagulov told Interfax news agency.

No serious discrepancies were spotted at the seven polling stations that Lennmarker visited with Reuters, though he said his final verdict on the process would take account of the legal framework and input from NGOs and political parties.

“There’s more happening in the polling stations here than in my country. It’s a bit like a carnival atmosphere,” he said, after seeing makeshift markets in schools operating as polling stations and a girl band performing a concert in another.

Lennmarker was once forced to produce his passport to get in to the polling station, where security guards from the presidential administration were in control. He also told his driver to leave the city centre to “go somewhere less posh”.

Three old women in a residential area then pointed the way to the nearest school, no. 467. Queues of people waited to vote, and on the way out, there were stalls selling pink nightwear.

Party observers from President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party were present at all the polling centre’s Lennmarker visited, though few opposition figures were in evidence.

In another area of Moscow, British Conservative Nigel Evans said he saw no big discrepancies at polling stations he visited.

“This seems to be very efficient as far as the procedures are concerned,” said Evans, adding he had seen nothing corresponding to opposition party allegations of vote rigging.

Both observer missions will issue a joint declaration on Monday on both the voting and the election campaign.

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