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Russia: International Observers Praise Duma Elections

International observers of yesterday's elections for the Russian Duma are praising the voting, saying it marked a step forward in the country's democratization. RFE/RL correspondent Tuck Wesolowsky attended a Moscow press conference held by representatives of an international observer mission and files this report.

Moscow, 20 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- European observers who monitored yesterday's parliamentary elections in Russia say the poll was an important step forward in the country's democratic development.

The statement was made today at a press conference by Helle Degn, the head of the monitoring team sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). She was joined by representatives from the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, which also monitored the vote.

Degn said through the election Russia had "reached a new level on its journey to becoming a sophisticated democracy." She said polling across Russia's 11 time zones had been fair. Degn said that with more than 300,000 Russian monitors stationed at most of the country's 94,000 polling stations, the monitoring job had been thorough.

Degn said there had been minor but n-o major violations during the casting of ballots.

But she said the campaign itself had seen shortcomings, namely the negative media campaign carried out by various political camps in the run-up to the vote.

Degn said she had met today with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov who invited the OSCE to monitor the Russian presidential poll in six months.

In a later interview with RFE/RL, Degn defended her organization's decision to hail the vote as a significant advance for Russia despite what she had acknowledged were political smear campaigns in the media before balloting.

"Altogether we think that you have to look upon this on the broader perspective, saying that Russia, the people of Russia have determined to move towards democracy. They have been reforming their machinery, they show up, I think it is a very good voter turnout, just ask the American politicians. I think this is a very good turnout in a democracy ... under transformation."

Degn acknowledges that Russia is still plagued by problems in its political development and that democratization still faces challenges. But she expresses optimism: "Yes, in the development of the political arena from a one-party system to a multi-party system you will have a lot of 'child diseases', so to say, and that is the same with the legal framework, that's the same with the handling of the media and so forth. I hope and I think Russia is on her way."

Asked if the success of the Unity bloc was a step forward for Russian democracy or rather the result of a finely-tuned Kremlin campaign, Degn had the following to say:

"This is part of the new world, both for ordinary citizens and also for politicians. What we just witnessed here I think is the difficulties, old structures, old ways of handling political power [which] is changing in all our respective countries. We see what we call personal character murder of politicians, we see that the media is also in a new situation where they can either try to be serious, handling information and balanced information or being judged by the political analysts as ugly entertainment."

Degn holds out the hope that as Russian media consumers become more sophisticated, they may shun the kind of negative campaigning that marked the recent parliamentary campaign.

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    Tony Wesolowsky

    Tony Wesolowsky is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL in Prague, covering Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Central Europe, as well as energy issues. His work has also appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists.