OSCE/ODIHR visits Chechnya to assess preparations for Russian presidential elections

Report
from Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe
Published on 21 Mar 2000
MOSCOW, 21 March 2000 - The Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ambassador Gérard Stoudmann, led an ODIHR delegation on 20 March to assess the preparations in Chechnya for the Russian Federation presidential election. The ODIHR delegation accompanied the Central Election Commission Chairman Mr. Alexandr Veshnyakov.
During the visit to Gudermes and Khankala near Grozny, the delegation held discussions with civilian and military authorities, as well as with regional and local election commission members. Throughout the one-day visit, the delegation was escorted by Russian Federation security forces.

Regional, District and Precinct Election Commissions have been set up and more than 336 polling stations are foreseen in 12 of the 15 districts of Chechnya for the 26 March election. Although precise registration numbers are not available due to population displacement, the number of eligible voters in Chechnya is estimated at some 460,000, including military personnel. Polling for some military units is already under way.

The delegation observed the challenging circumstances under which preparations for the elections are well in hand. Polling stations have been set up, but technical conditions, including power supply, still present difficulties. Ballots and other election materials have been delivered. The Regional Election Commission (REC) in Gudermes has been linked with the electronic vote aggregation centre at the Central Election Commission in Moscow. Security measures are in place for election day, but the transport of election results from polling stations to the REC may be challenging. The civilian and military authorities in Chechnya are attempting to overcome these and other difficulties.

Obviously, standard conditions for elections and pre-electoral activities do not exist in Chechnya due to the ongoing military campaign in parts of the territory and security conditions in others. In particular, election campaign activities in the territory have not taken place, although Acting President Putin has visited the territory. Moreover, the population in Chechnya has had very limited access to the electronic and print media, and enjoys limited freedom of movement. Fear may discourage some voters from participating. Intimidation against voting cannot be ruled out.

Special measures are in place for displaced persons within Chechnya and in the neighbouring regions to take part in the voting. In addition, the authorities encourage all voters to take part in the polling as an essential step towards restoring normality and stability in Chechnya. In this context, voter participation figures will be scrutinized.

The OSCE Election Observation Mission will deploy monitors on election day to further assess the voting among the population of internally displaced persons in the region.

PRESS CONFERENCE: The OSCE Election Monitoring Mission will hold a news conference on at 14:00 on 27 March 2000, at the Hotel Metropol, Moscow. Contact information: 7th Floor Smolensky Passage, Smolensky Square 3, Moscow 121099, Russian Federation, tel:+7 095 937 8305; fax: +7 095 937 8328; e-mail: eom.admin@sovintel.ru