Western monitors to give harsh Russia poll verdict

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Western observers who monitored Russia’s presidential election will deliver their assessment in a report in Moscow on Monday, one of the observers said.

Police empty a ballot box at a polling station in the Siberian village Ust-Mana, some 18.6 miles from Krasnoyarsk, March 2, 2008. REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin

Official results on Monday showed Dmitry Medvedev, who was backed by outgoing President Vladimir Putin, won with 70.2 percent of the vote.

British parliamentarian Nigel Evans told Reuters the small 23-member Western observer team felt their recommendations for conducting a fair election had been ignored.

“We were talking about this last night and this morning and we’re of a mind that Medvedev would have won, but not by 69 or 70 percent. They should have more confidence in Russia to have a more open and democratic system than is currently the case,” Evans said.

The election was criticized by Russia’s opposition as unfair and riddled with violations, though the Central Election Commission said it had not observed serious flaws.

The chief of the delegation from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, told Reuters last week the final assessment would be tough.

“Our statement on Monday will not be less tough than the one three weeks ago, because nearly nothing improved,” said Gross.

Although Gross refrained from criticizing the process on polling day itself, some of his team told Reuters of discrepancies on the day and concerns surrounding the electoral campaign.

A PACE pre-electoral delegation on February 8 said it was concerned voters would have a limited choice and pointed to the “insurmountable” difficulties one candidate faced to register to run in Sunday’s contest.

“An election where there is not a level playing field for all contestants can hardly be considered as fair,” the PACE team stated before the campaign.

Last week, Gross said he felt little had changed over the course of three weeks following this statement.

Europe’s main election watchdog, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), cancelled plans to monitor the election, citing unacceptable restrictions imposed by Moscow.

It wanted to follow the entire campaign, but was unable to reach a compromise with Russia on how many days its trained monitors would be allowed in the country.

Editing by Stephen Weeks