STATEMENT by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Observer Mission on monitoring the preparations for and holding of the 18 March 2018 election of the President of the Russian Federation

STATEMENT by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Observer Mission

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a comprehensive international and transregional organisation encompassing one-third of the Eurasian continent. It accounts for over 44 percent of the world's population between the Arctic and the Indian Ocean (from the north to the south) and between the Pacific Ocean and the Baltic Sea (from the east to the west). All SCO member countries generate almost 25 percent of the global GDP.

The SCO's tasks include monitoring presidential and general elections, as well as referendums. Since 2004, the SCO has established 43 observer missions, including six in the Russian Federation.

At the invitation of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation, members of an SCO Mission monitored the preparations for and holding of the Russian presidential election between 13 and 18 March 2018.

Mission members perceive the invitation of the observers as a striving of the Russian Federation's leaders to guarantee maximum openness, transparency and the democratic nature of the presidential election.

1. The Mission's lineup

The Mission included 26 accredited observers representing legislative, executive and election agencies of seven SCO member states, including India, Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, as well as SCO Secretariat officials.

SCO Secretary General Rashid Alimov headed the Mission.

The Mission included the following members:
From the Republic of India: Dey Saswati, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of India to the Russian Federation.
From the Republic of Kazakhstan: Sabila Mustafina, Secretary of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Gulnar Kasenova, Deputy Head of the Administrative Department of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Kazakhstan; Serik Yegizbayev, Deputy Chairman of the Kazakhstan Republican Television and Radio Company.

From the People's Republic of China: Zou Yanhui, Councilor, Department of European and Central Asian Affairs, Foreign Ministry of China.

From the Kyrgyz Republic: Bakirdin Subanbekov, Deputy of the Kyrgyz Republic's Supreme Council (Jogorqu Kenes); Kubanychbek Nurmatov, Deputy of the Kyrgyz Republic's Supreme Council (Jogorqu Kenes); Kairat Mamatov, Chairman of the Bishkek Territorial Election Commission.

From the Islamic Republic of Pakistan: Muhammad Babar Yacoob Fateh, Secretary of the Election Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan; Buhari Sayyed Shabbar Abbas, Deputy Director General of the Administrative Department of the Election Commission of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

From the Republic of Tajikistan: Nosirjon Salimi, Member of the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Tajikistan and Rector of the Sadriddin Aini Tajik State Pedagogical University; Samadzoda Nawruz, Chief of Staff at the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Tajikistan.

From the Republic of Uzbekistan: Shafoat Nurullayeva, Deputy Director at the Institute of Strategic and Inter-Regional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan; Sherzod Kulmatov, Deputy of the Legislative Chamber of the Supreme Assembly (Oliy Majlis) of the Republic of Uzbekistan; Alexander Aristov, Chairman of the Russian Cultural Centre of the Republic of Uzbekistan.

From the SCO Secretariat: councilors Zhang Ling and M. Prakash Anand; 1st category experts Alexander Savelyev and Ahmad Saidmurodov; 2nd category Expert Liui Yi; assistants Krishna Kengappa, Daniar Chirkeyev, Ulzhan Galinova, Adilet Orozbekov and Ulugbek Yusubov.

2. Mission objectives

The Mission worked under the SCO Regulations on the SCO Observer Mission at Presidential and/or Parliamentary Elections and Referendums and the principles of political neutrality and non-interference in the internal affairs and election process of the country in question, as well as in strict compliance with the laws of the Russian Federation.

On 30 December 2017, the SCO Secretary-General started creating the Mission, while the respective working group of the SCO Secretariat analysed the election legislation and practice in the Russian Federation, as well as the Russian media coverage of the election campaign.

The Mission worked under the concept of operations of the Observer Mission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to monitor preparations for and holding of the election of the President of the Russian Federation.

The Mission head (the SCO Secretary-General) and members held official and working meetings with the leadership of the Central Election Commission, the heads, secretaries and members of territorial and district election commissions, voters, national observers, public initiative groups, the heads and members of the observer missions of foreign countries and international organisations, as well as the media.

The necessary conditions were created for monitoring the preparations for and the election of the president of Russia by the Mission, which is evidence of the openness and transparency of the election process.

The Mission members were updated on the efforts taken by the Central Election Commission to prepare for and hold the presidential election, including at Russia's diplomatic offices abroad.

The Mission's conclusions are based on the personal observations conducted by the Mission staff and factual material collected during the preparations for the election and on the election day itself.

3. Legal framework for the presidential election in the Russian Federation

The legal framework for the election of the president of the Russian Federation comprises the Constitution, Federal Law No. 19-FZ On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation dated 10 January 2003, Federal Law No. 67-FZ On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum dated 12 June 2002, other federal laws, as well as other laws and regulations and decisions of the Central Election Commission.

On 15 December 2017, the Federation Council (upper house) of the Federal Assembly (parliament) of the Russian Federation, acting under Article 81 and Clause "e" of Part 1 of Article 102 of the Constitution and Clauses 2 and 7 of Article 5 of the Federal Law On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation, issued the date for the presidential election on 18 March 2018.

4. Innovations in the Russian Federation's election legislation

Mission members conducted an in-depth analysis of the Russian Federation's election legislation. Russia has created all the required conditions for parties to the election process at the legislative level. The Russian Federation holds elections in line with universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot. These elections are based on the free and voluntary exercising of election rights by citizens.

Mission members focused on innovations to upgrade the Russian Federation's election legislation and note that such legislation had been amended considerably since the previous elections held in 2012. Between 2012-2017, Federal Law On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation was amended and augmented over ten times for the purpose of upgrading it. A number of provisions of Federal Law On Basic Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right of Citizens of the Russian Federation to Participate in a Referendum were specified and improved.

Mission members note that these amendments and additions aimed to further democratise the elections and to boost the transparency as well as creating favourable conditions for citizens to exercise their election rights.

As compared to the 2012 elections, the following main amendments have been made to the legislation regarding the 2018 Russian presidential election:

1) Prospective candidates should collect fewer signatures prior to nomination. Candidates from non-parliamentary parties are to collect 100,000 rather than 2 million signatures. And independent candidates should collect 300,000 rather than 2 million signatures.
2) Additional requirements and documents are needed to register candidates who should submit information about foreign real estate to the Central Election Commission; moreover, candidates have no right to have foreign bank accounts.
3) Campaigning regulations have changed, with due consideration for the capabilities of modern information technology.
4) People wishing to vote outside their election districts no longer have to obtain absentee ballots, and a new procedure for allowing voters to cast their ballots at the place of their location, rather than the place of their residence/registration, is stipulated.
5) Voters have to state their permanent address under the new requirements. During election campaigns, voters' signatures were repeatedly rejected because these people failed to give their full addresses.
6) A new procedure for the establishment of election districts is stipulated. A clause that election districts are established for a period of five years has been taken out. From now on, the boundaries of election districts don't have to be reviewed, unless it is absolutely necessary.
7) A new clause regulating the establishment of election commissions whose powers are set to expire during the election campaign has been added.
8) A clause on removing observers and other persons from a polling station has been amended. A court located in the same area as a district election commission shall make the relevant decision.
9) Members of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and those of regional civic chambers have the right to delegate their own observers to elections.
10) In 2017, national legislation formalised the right to use video surveillance and online broadcasting systems/web cameras at polling stations. This practice was first introduced during the 2012 presidential election.
11) Under the law, polling stations must be equipped in such a way as to provide unimpeded access to voters with disabilities.
12) Life-long restrictions on passive electoral rights of some categories of individuals were abolished. Those serving prison terms for grave crimes shall be deprived of the passive electoral rights for a period of ten years after the conviction has been expunged or the sentence has been completed. Those serving prison terms for particularly grave crimes shall be deprived of the passive election rights for a period of 15 years after the conviction has been expunged or the sentence has been completed.

Numerous election process innovations were tested on 10 September 2017 during the elections which were held for the top officials in 16 regions of the Russian Federation; these elections served as a "dress rehearsal" for the March 2018 presidential elections.

5. Use of modern technology and equipment

Cutting-edge technology and equipment used during the 2018 presidential election greatly increased the automation standards of the voting process. These include:

1. Video monitoring at the polling stations and in the municipal election commissions: this equipment was installed in 46,000 electoral districts where some 80 percent of the voters cast their ballots.
2. Electronic ballot paper processing systems were installed in over 12,000 polling stations.
3. The State Automated System Vybory provided comprehensive solutions at all stages of the election process.
4. The technology of printing district commissions' protocols on voting results as a machine readable code (QR code) QR-codes were used to accelerate the feeding of protocol data into the State Automated System Vybory.

6. Modern information technology

The Mission took note of the comprehensive use of various sorts of information technology to ensure transparency, openness and public control, as well as to preclude the use of administrative resources to include the outcome, including:

1. The Central Election Commission (CEC) created its official accounts in several social media networks, in particular, VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Telegram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
2. A free Information and Help Centre (telephone numbers: 8 (800) 707 2018 and 8 (495) 727 2018) provided information for voters on how to vote not where they live but where they wished to vote on the election day, polling station addresses, as well as other information about the election campaign. People could also call the Centre to report voting violations.
3. The National Public Monitoring website (nom24.ru) collected information reported by observers from polling stations on the election day.
4. Some 1.6 million voters made use of the Mobile Voter mechanism on the Government Services website.

7. Presidential candidates

There were eight candidates at the 18 March 2018 presidential election:
1. Sergei Baburin, leader of the Russian All-People's Union party;
2. Pavel Grudinin, nominated by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation;
3. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, nominated by the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia;
4. Vladimir Putin, independent candidate;
5. Ksenia Sobchak, nominated by the Civic Initiative party;
6. Maxim Suraikin, nominated by the Communists of Russia Party;
7. Boris Titov, nominated by the Party of Growth;
8. Grigory Yavlinsky, nominated by the Yabloko Russian United Democratic Party.

8. Election campaigning

The election law guarantees registered candidates equal access to media outlets for the election campaigning.

Mission members note that election campaigning was held in accordance with the Russian Federation's legislation, openly and aimed at informing as many citizens as possible. Media outlets provided detailed and diverse coverage of these events.

Mission members note that the highly competitive election of the Russian Federation's president involved numerous representatives from civil society and created favourable conditions for voters, so that they could make an independent and conscious choice.

Free air time was made available for the candidates for their election campaigning and debates on five national television channels, including Channel One, Rossiya-1, Rossiya-24, TV Centre and Public Television of Russia, as well as on three nationwide radio stations, including Radio Russia, Vesti-FM and Mayak, and over 300 regional television and radio companies.

Fifteen printed periodicals provided candidates with free space.

Each television channel and radio station provided over 12 hours of free broadcasting slots. This accounted for over 60 hours of federal television broadcasting time and 36 hours of federal radio broadcasting time.

Federal television channels broadcast candidates' promo footage together with their debates as well.

Candidates received equal opportunities for purchasing broadcasting slots and printed-media space using their own campaign funds.

Printed campaigning material was displayed at polling stations, pasted on billboards, banners were distributed in the streets and flyers were delivered to post boxes.

Candidates held rallies, met with voters and directly addressed regional voters.

Mission members underscore the fact that the Central Election Commission closely monitored compliance with legislation during the publication of the reports dealing with the election campaign in the run-up to the presidential election. For example, the Central Election Commission notified regional election commissions about methodological recommendations of the Federal Supervision Service for Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media (Roskomnadzor) on how to expose and analyse any material that violated legal provisions.

The Central Election Commission approved the Regulations of a Working Group for Media Disputes and Other Issues of Information Support for the 2018 Election of the President of the Russian Federation. This was done to monitor compliance with the procedure and regulations for informing voters and for conducting the election campaign.

During their activities, the Mission members received no complaints or concerns about the work of the media outlets covering the election campaign.

9. Preparations for the election

The Mission points out that comprehensive work was carried out with the election commissions at all levels during the implementation of the Central Election Commission's Schedule of Events for the Preparation for and Holding of the Presidential Election to ensure the election right of the people.

These events included the establishment of 85 regional, 2,779 territorial and 97,700 district election commissions.

A total of 108,968,869 voters registered for the election.

The CEC meetings were attended by observers from international and public organisations, the candidates' agents and authorised representatives, as well as the media. Information on the agenda and decisions taken at the CEC meetings was posted on the CEC website as well as published in the media, and the meetings themselves were streamed online and recorded.

The CEC held training sessions on the use of the State Automated System Vybory for members of the election commissions of all levels. These sessions were attended by over 27,000 members of territorial and over 850,000 members of district election commissions.

The training and methods system The Election Law and Election Process in the Russian Federation was used to test the knowledge of members of election commissions, who could train in the use of this system on the websites of the CEC and the CEC Centre for Training in Election Technology.

Election laws and regulations, subject-specific instructions, recommendations and collections of material were available on the CEC website.

Posters and booklets were published to help election commissions, as well as a memorandum book of district election commissions, which comprised the necessary instructions and samples of election papers.

The working hours of the places where the voters could file their applications regarding polling stations were extended.

Situation centres were organised to settle possible voting day problems and to prevent any violations of the election legislation by all parties to the election process.

The CEC Secretary and members made trips to the Russian regions in order to assess and monitor the preparations for the election. News conferences were held and interviews were given to the local media during these visits to update the public on the innovations to be used during the election. The CEC members taking part in these trips attended the meetings of territorial election commissions, met with the heads of local administrations, as well as inspected polling stations and their equipment for readiness for the election.

Special attention was paid to the organisation of voting for people with disabilities, including mobility impaired people, as well as senior citizens. A working group was established for interaction with the national public associations of the disabled, and instructions were prepared on the voting procedure for people with disabilities.
The CEC facilitated the signing of a five-party Agreement on Cooperation and Interaction within the framework of the Young People Choose the Future community-focused public project. The agreement was signed by the Russian Foundation for Free Elections (NGO), the Russian Union of Youth Election Commissions (public association), the Association of Volunteer Centres, the Russian Public Movement of Medical Volunteers, as well as the Russian Union of Youth (NGO).

Under this project, volunteers helped to deliver people with impaired mobility to the polling stations on election day, provided medical assistance in case it was needed, as well as informed this group of voters about the preparations for and the holding of the election.

In order to update the people on some provisions of the federal laws and to ensure their uniform application, the CEC approved regulations on the procedure for explaining the activities of foreign (international) observers at the presidential election.

The CEC also signed contracts for the publication of over 20 election information manuals, including "Voting where you wish to vote on the election day," "Easy voting: Instructions for observers at the March 18, 2018 presidential election," a small poster for observers, "Instructions for journalists," "Instructions for election commission members' interaction with observers and journalists," as well as "Instructions for police officers."

Several online services were available on the CEC website, including a "Voter's online account," "Find your polling station," "Find your name on the voters' register," as well as the "Interactive map of polling stations."

Special or additional public transportation routes were organised in outlying areas of some regions to deliver voters to and from the polling stations.

The working group for the preview of complaints convened for regular meetings.

10. Early voting

The mission notes that early voting was conducted 20 days before the election day for residents in remote and difficult to reach areas, employees at polar stations, as well as crews of ships that were at sea on the election day.

The CEC approved the Recommendations on the Organisation and Conduct of Voting on Ships that will be at Sea on the Voting Day during the Election of the President of the Russian Federation.

The CEC decided to amend the standards for technological equipment for local commissions in the part concerning the stationary and portable ballot boxes for the polling stations. The adjusted standards require one stationary ballot box at the polling station premises serving under 1,000 voters; two boxes at polling stations serving at least 2,000 people; and three boxes at polling stations serving 2,000 or more voters.

11. Voting on location

The mission notes that for the first time Russian citizens were granted the right to vote where they were on the election day, not at their official place of registration, that is, a voter who was in another city or district on the voting day was allowed to vote in their actual location where they were. A system was put in place that ruled out any possibility of multiple voting. To implement the new voting mechanism in practice, the CEC drafted the concept, Procedure for Applying for Inclusion in the Voter List at Any Location on the Day of the Election of the President of the Russian Federation.

According to the CEC, 5,676,829 such applications were submitted.

12. Organisation of elections abroad

The mission notes that the CEC carried out a large-scale project to organize the voting of Russian citizens abroad, on the eve and on the election day itself. The CEC increased the number of polling stations established outside the Russian Federation, including popular holiday destinations and tourist districts. As a result, 401 polling stations were organised in 145 countries under Russian diplomatic missions. Most polling stations abroad also offered the early voting option, as early as 15 days before the actual election day.

Voting outside Russia was organised by the CEC of the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Rossotrudnichestvo, Rosturism, as well as a number of mass media that circulate their publications abroad.

The Working Group on coordination of work related to the organisation of voting at polling stations established outside the territory of the Russian Federation for the elections of the President of the Russian Federation met on a regular basis. A set of documents were released, including "Instructions on the procedure for voting in the election of the president of the Russian Federation for citizens of the Russian Federation permanently residing or based outside the territory of the Russian Federation," "Instructions on the procedure for voting abroad for Russian citizens traveling outside the territory of Russia on private, business, official or tourist trips," and "Instructions for voters who plan to be on the road on the actual voting day in the election of the president of the Russian Federation."

13. Election day

On the election day, Mission members arrived at the polling stations shortly before they opened and watched officials prepare the ballot papers and seal the stationary as well as the portable ballot boxes.

To gain the most insight into the pace of the election process in the Russian Federation, Mission members oversaw activities in six federal districts of the Russian Federation. On voting day, Mission members were stationed in the Primorye Territory (Vladivostok, Russky Island and the towns of Kanal and Trudovoye), in the Irkutsk Region (Irkutsk, Shelekhov, the Irkutsk and Shelekhov districts and the villages of Markova, Vvedenshchina, Smolinshchina and Baklashi), in the Novosibirsk Region (Novosibirsk), in the Republic of Tatarstan (Kazan, Laishevo, Usady and the villages of Sokury, Pelevo, Imenkovo and Malaya Yelga), in the Republic of Adygea (Adygeisk, the Takhtamukai District and the town of Yablonovsky), in the Krasnodar Territory (Krasnodar, Goriachy Klyuch, the Seversky, Slavyansk and Krymsk districts, the Cossack village of Severskaya, the town of Afipsky, the Cossack village of Smolenskaya, the Cossack village of Azovskaya, Slavyansk-on-Kuban, the towns of Sovkhozny and Vishnyovy, Krymsk and the Cossack village of Troitskaya), in St. Petersburg, in the Leningrad Region (Gatchina), as well as in Moscow, in the Vladimir Region (the Sobinsky and Petushinsky districts, Vladimir, Pokrov, Petushki and the village of Novoye Annino), in the Kaluga Region (Kaluga), in the Moscow Region (Zelenograd), in the Ryazan Region (Ryazan) and in the Tula Region (the Shchokinsky District and Tula). Mission members visited 782 polling stations on the eve of and on the actual election day.

Mission members note that voting began in an impressive setting, as the national anthem of the Russian Federation was played.

Mission observers visited polling stations without prior coordination with executive and electoral bodies. Each Mission member chose his or her own polling station. Mission members were not barred from visiting any specific polling station in any way.

Mission members note the high voter turnout and the professionalism of members of the local election commissions.

Members of the local election commissions created favourable conditions for the voting process and remained unbiased throughout the voting. They provided exhaustive and detailed explanations to voters on various matters. They treated voters, local, public and international observers and journalists tactfully and attentively.

Members of local election commissions worked competently, openly, transparently as well as independently.

All local election commissions had all the required documentation, reference books, voter registration books, methodological papers, schedules, evacuation diagrams and other material too.

Every polling station had a medical unit and a mother-and-child facility. The Central Election Commission provided conditions for voters with disabilities. Visually impaired persons received Braille ballot papers. Senior citizens were given special attention.

Mission members were satisfied to note the impressive voter turnout among young people. Those voting for the first time received souvenirs.

The voting proceeded smoothly at polling stations, in line with the established procedure and in the presence of local, public and international observers and also media representatives.

Mission members were also present during the closing of the polling stations, vote-counting and the signing of election commissions' protocols on voting returns.

Mission members received no complaints or concerns on the election day.

At the same time, Mission members did note several cases of technical violations, however this was not on a mass scale and could not influence the voting returns.

14. Main conclusions

Under Clause 8 of Article 24 of the Federal Law On the Election of the President of the Russian Federation, foreign (international) observers have the right, after the voting time ends on the entire territory of the Russian Federation, to express their opinion about the laws on the election of the president of the Russian Federation and about the preparation and conduct of the election of the president of the Russian Federation, hold press conferences and contact the mass media.

During their monitoring activities, Mission members proceed from the assumption that elections are held for the people and for the purposes of the country's future socioeconomic development, rather than for international observers.

Mission members hereby state that the election of the president of the Russian Federation met the requirements of Russian election legislation and the country's international obligations.

Mission members noted no violations of the requirements of national legislation that would throw doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

Mission members recognise the election as transparent, authentic and democratic.

Mission members hereby state that the latest presidential election were an important step towards the subsequent development of democratic processes in the Russian Federation.

Mission members congratulate the people of Russia on electing the president of the Russian Federation and wish them every success in strengthening the country's independence and sovereignty, as well as new achievements in socioeconomic development and prosperity.

Members of the Observers Mission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
are grateful to the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation and the Foreign Ministry as well as other organisations and agencies for their all-round assistance and help during the course of their work.

Observers Mission of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation
19 March 2018, Moscow