OSCE Nod Doesn't Aid Democracy
Since the dawn of the democratic "experiment" in Russia, Western observers have been trumpeted as a virtual guarantee of free and fair elections - as if merely by being here, a handful of well-intentioned foreigners could magically lift the spell of political coercion and corruption and let the healing begin.
Russia, of course, is not that simple a case. But observers continue to operate as though it were. With fewer than 400 observers on hand to monitor a tiny fraction of Russia's 95,000 polling stations on March 26, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe delivered its preliminary verdict just one day later: The election marked "further progress for the consolidation of democratic elections in the Russian Federation."
On May 19, having had over a month to fully digest the information given by the members of its International Election Observation Mission, the OSCE merely added a final layer of gloss to its original thumbs-up: The elections were "a benchmark in the ongoing evolution of the Russian Federation's emergence as a representative democracy."
Admittedly, a mission that comprises fewer than 200 two-person teams is necessarily limited in what it can observe - particularly with a schedule that allows no more than an hour at any one polling station. It may well be that the majority of the OSCE monitors in fact saw nothing out of the ordinary during their cursory inspections. (The Moscow Times interviewed one observer who spent an entire night at a single territorial commission and did note numerous procedural violations. In the end, however, he said it was not enough to recommend canceling election results from that area.)
But is the OSCE receptive to supplemental information? Apparently not. In response to The Moscow Times' extensive documentation of pervasive vote falsification in the March elections, the organization has said that it will stick by its report until fraud allegations are validated by a court of law. (In fact, elections law violations apparently have already been admitted by prosecutor's offices in a number of complaints related to the vote that put Vladimir Putin in office.)
The OSCE appears ready to wash its hands of the whole affair and congratulate itself on a job well done. But there is ample evidence that the Russian presidential elections do not deserve the legitimacy that an OSCE nod delivers. If this is the best a well-intentioned Western mission can do, then perhaps next time they should just stay home - like they are with the Yugoslavian elections.