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Russia: Observers Say Election Falls Short Of Democratic Standards

Moscow, 8 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- International observers today said yesterday's parliamentary election in Russia failed to meet international standards for a democratic vote. Bruce George, president of the parliamentary assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said the election, which was dominated by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, represented a reversal of Russia's democratization progress. George said the election results were "overwhelmingly distorted" because of the ruling party's access to state media and resources.

The head of the observer mission from the Council of Europe, David Atkinson, also criticized politicians' use of state media and taxpayers' money to promote their parties. He said the election can be regarded as free, but not fair.

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said at a news conference today that Unified Russia leads with 36.8 percent, with 90 percent of the votes counted from yesterday's elections.

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation is second with 12.7 percent of the vote, down from 24 percent four years ago. Third is Vladimir Zhirinovskii's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia with 11.8 percent.

Motherland, a new party combining nationalists and communists, is fourth with 9.0 percent.

Russia's main liberal parties, Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), have not reached 5 percent of the vote, which is necessary to win any of the 225 State Duma seats set aside for parties.

The other 225 seats of the State Duma are being decided in local elections being contested by individual candidates. Results from those races are expected much later.

SPS leader Boris Nemtsov expressed alarm at the strong showing of Unified Russia and the nationalist parties. He suggested they could act together to tighten government control over the economy and society.

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov dismissed the elections as a "disgusting show." Veshnyakov has denied charges of electoral fraud.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had said the pre-election campaign was marred by pro-Kremlin bias in the media, a charge echoed by many Russian opposition parties and commentators. Later today, the OSCE, and other groups that monitored yesterday's voting, are due to release their findings.

For more on this story and other information on the parties and key individuals running in the Russian elections, see The Russian Federation Votes 2003-04.