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Russian elections

January 21, 2012

Council of Europe election observers have said that Russia needs real political change following the country's disputed general election. Thousands gathered on Saturday for an anti-Putin protest outside the Kremlin.

Protesters waving placards
Protesters say the election was rigged by the ruling partyImage: dapd

Speaking ahead of a presentation of its final report in Strasbourg on Monday, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegation said Russia needs real political change, not a "survival mechanism" for the current regime.

The group, which observed last month's controversial parliamentary elections, was speaking in Moscow as thousands gathered near the Kremlin to demand fair presidential elections on March 4.

Protesters waved red flags and posters reading "Russia without Putin." Opposition groups said 6,000 people joined the demonstration although media reports put that number significantly lower.

Wake-up call

Council of Europe delegation leader and Dutch lawmaker Tiny Kox warned that nationwide protests since the elections, which have brought thousands onto the streets to demonstrate against the political leadership, were a "wake-up call" for Russia.

The delegation noted "widespread indications of the need for political change in Russia, and called for this change to be substantial and sustainable," Kox said, reading from an official statement at a press conference in Moscow. "It should not be a survival mechanism."

The council said the change would have to be sustainableImage: picture alliance/abaca

To restore public trust in the electoral system, Russia also required an "impartial referee who can guarantee that this game we call democracy is on a level playing field," he said.

Election monitors criticized

Russia's Central Election Commission has dismissed the European delegation's comments as "completely politicized" and accused the mission of overstepping its responsibilities.

"Observers make a conclusion regarding the organization of the elections and their adherence to electoral laws," commission member Tatyana Voronova told the Interfax news agency.

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) team said the elections were "marred by a convergence of the state and the governing party," with reports of many thousands of complaints.

"It has become evident that during the counting of the votes, things went wrong. There is no difference (of opinion) over that fact, but there is over the effect it had," said Kox.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party won just short of a majority in last month's parliamentary elections. Putin is now expected to win a third term as president in March 4 elections, taking over from President Dmitry Medvedev who has agreed to step aside and become the country's prime minister.

Author: Nigel Tandy (dpa, AP)
Editor: Kyle James