TRANSCRIPT: [Putin] Meeting with Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova and commission members

Russian State Duma Building file photo

(Kremlin.ru – September 23, 2016)

Vladimir Putin met with the chairperson of the Central Election Commission and the commission’s members to discuss the results of the recent elections.

Elections for the State Duma and for various local jurisdictions were held in 60 Russian regions on Election Day, September 18, 2016.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, colleagues,

I would like to thank you and the members of the Central Election Commission, its team and your colleagues for your incredible hard work during the parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation..

You properly accomplished your task and provided an honest and competitive struggle between political parties that allowed the citizens of our country to express their will by voting.

The Central Election Commission maintained compliance with all legal procedures and promptly responded to complaints.

I heard Ms Pamfilova speaking somewhat harshly on some issues, and I’d like to assure you that I will do my best to have the concerns that troubled you and the observers considered and duly reviewed.

However, the overwhelming majority of participants in the election process, the observers and, most importantly, the Russian people saw the election as unbiased and legitimate.

Certainly, this is the most important indicator that our election system is developing in the right direction.

Political parties are now participating in the organisation of the election process more actively. We are aware of this. Almost half of the members of the central election commissions at various levels were appointed based on their proposals.

Many of your colleagues, a total of 880,000 central election commission voting members took part in the complex and important process of organising and holding the election. This is a large team.

Observers do a great deal to increase the transparency of the process. The video surveillance system and online streaming on public networks is equally important. Certainly, we should continue to develop this.

I’d like to thank you all again for your hard work. I’m waiting for your own opinions about this election and ideas on how to improve it.

Central Election Commission Chairperson Ella Pamfilova: Thank you, Mr President.

I’d like to present you with this album. In it, we have tried to aggregate all the statistics reflecting the scale of this election. I would like to say that it was the largest and most complex election in modern Russia’s entire electoral history, with over 5,300 campaigns at different levels.

Naturally, if we compare it to 2011, when only seven parties were in the race, today there are 14 parties plus the return of single-seat constituencies. In other words, the pressure naturally multiplied, because competition was stiff. On average, 14.5 per district. This is, of course, an unprecedented scale. In some regions, we had up to nine seats.

Take a look – I will not enumerate [everything]. There are a lot of interesting things. I believe that you will appreciate the scale. Almost 40,000 seats were up for grabs. Furthermore, in 39 regions, there were also elections to legislative assemblies. Seven governors were elected. I would like to underscore – this is also very good, as everyone has noted – that direct gubernatorial elections have been reinstated. This is very important. The results are not bad at all, either. Overall, there were 102,000 candidates for seats in all government bodies. This is a huge number.

The expert community expressed concern that there would be far fewer observers. In reality, we have calculated that, while in 2011 there were 440,120 (together with commission members with a non-binding vote), this time it was 419,487 – this is relatively, practically the same.

I would like to thank all the main parties, which deployed a truly massive army of observers. For our part, we at the CEC have tried to provide the most favourable conditions both to members of the media who had been accredited to ensure that they did not run into any impediments, and to observers. In fact, we imposed a moratorium on their expulsion. We repeatedly stated at each meeting, in every statement: “If you want fair elections, come to the polls, vote and observe!” Observers and the media are our natural allies, as they also wanted fair, competitive and transparent elections.

I would like to say that United Russia posted 166,782 observers; the CPRF, 83,323; the LDPR, 58,612; the Party of Growth, 42,884; A Just Russia, 51,803, and Yabloko, 3,697. I will not enumerate them all. Incidentally, the more observers there are, the weightier the arguments, in particular with regard to the violations that have been identified. Those who truly covered all polling stations kept track of the situation and were able to provide accurate information, not just speculate on what was going on.

The number of repeated entries into the Elections State Automated System (GAS) decreased by one third compared to the past election. We established very strict control over this and if a repeated entry occurs, we immediately look into the cause: is it a technical mishap or a violation, or someone trying to play games? So we followed up on everything. Nobody will avoid responsibility.

Yesterday there was an awful incident that we uncovered in the Voronezh Region. I think we will submit these materials to the Prosecutor General’s Office. I believe all those who are responsible for deliberately changing information should be held accountable. We think they shamelessly exploited the levers of power there. I hope that law-enforcement bodies will reach the appropriate conclusions on this and other violations that regrettably took place there. But their number was much smaller than during the last election.

According to the Ministry of the Interior, 32 criminal cases have already been initiated as compared to 54 in 2011. In all, we received 394 complaints following the election. We are now studying them meticulously. Not a single complaint will go unanswered. However, in general, the number and character of complaints can in no way affect the elections or their legitimacy.

The complexity of this election was unprecedented. Of course, we made mistakes and I see them. We must take this into account by all means. It is necessary to reorganise the system from within and make it more mobile and dynamic. We also need to replace equipment, such as machines for processing paper ballots and new voting systems. The legislation must be amended by all means because along with some very good regulations that have liberalised laws and enhanced competitiveness – the reduction of the threshold from seven to five percent, direct elections of governors, and a decrease in the number of signatures that must be collected – we faced a lot of red tape and a very complicated registration procedure. A lot of papers must be collected and parties find it difficult to collect them (I think they will let you know about this themselves) and we find it difficult to check. The same applies to the mechanism of collecting and verifying signatures. This is also difficult for rank-and-file citizens, especially independent candidates. Even many lawyers found it difficult to explain certain vague points of the legislation. Sometimes they found it very difficult to classify some standards correctly. So you can imagine what independent candidates had to face, although we tried to help them.

I believe now we will work to correct the mistakes, do what we left unfinished. I can see another minus on our part in that our PR colleagues in the regions should have kept the people better informed about the elections. I believe that a drop in turnout was related, among other things, to the fact that our colleagues in the regions did not provide sufficient information to the people about when the election would be held or the location of polling stations. Needless to say, now we have improved the procedure to the greatest extent possible.

Here in Moscow we use text messages and online information but there are groups of people, especially senior citizens, who are accustomed to going to the polls, receiving post cards. They do not text. It is essential, while making progress, to preserve the traditional methods of keeping this particular category of citizens informed, at least insofar as our work is concerned. There are also internal matters, issues related to technological modernisation, legislative amendments and ways of improving law enforcement practice.

We will seriously analyse the mistakes and meet with all parties that are interested in this, as well as with the expert community. Throughout the campaign we did not turn anyone down. We closely collaborated with all those who wanted to help, with all those who were interested in fair, well-organised elections. The Central Election Commission heard them all. I have no doubt – and I think this holds true for my colleagues – that we definitely ensured complete openness and transparency.

I would like to make another important point, Mr President. Thank you for this meeting. For the first time in 13 years, the meeting is taking place in this composition, and this is very important because the CEC is not run by Pamfilova. It is a collective body and all of my colleagues, even though there are representatives of six parties as well as unaffiliated members – we worked as a single team. And by the way, for the first time, we unanimously voted for the protocol.

Do you know what our biggest challenge was? Unfortunately, far from all regional leaders heeded your political will, your call for open, competitive and fair elections, and some of them filtered it through the prism of their personal interests, I am sorry to say.

I will not provide specific information now, because we have [only] analysed the first stage – the situation before election day, including the unfair use and abuse of the levers of power. What was the distinctive feature of our work this time? To ensure that the election day went smoothly, it was necessary to keep track of what was happening at this stage on a daily basis and prevent a host of possible abuses. We are now working on this material.

Since this is within our purview, I would like to take a close look at how our colleagues in the regions – commission chairs – worked. Now we will have a rotation, with two-thirds due to be replaced. We will consider [the situation] and evaluate everyone’s performance to see who was guided not by the law but by some other interests and who worked honestly, despite any pressure. As for regional leaders, this is up to you to decide.

The second stage, election day. I am not ready now, because we are still analysing, with petitions still coming in. I will only say that while progress in Moscow and the Moscow Region is evident, especially in Moscow, unfortunately, St Petersburg was deeply disappointing. Our analysis shows that there were very serious violations at the district level. All documents, all complaints and petitions have been passed on to the prosecutor’s office. I hope that appropriate conclusions will be made.

And one final thing, as my long presentation is nearing the end – I am sorry, but we took everything so close to heart. What did we encounter? We see that there is a clear violation. We see that our colleague has not acted in good faith. We censure him, but the governor says: “No, stay on.” The CEC has given the commission chairman a no-confidence vote, advising him to go, to vacate his post. The head of the region disagrees with us and the person stays put. Under the law, this is correct, but it is necessary to think through this.

If we assume this responsibility, it is necessary, without violating the principle of federalism, to fine-tune the mechanism, ensuring that the CEC has at least the same powers that regional commissions have. They can appoint or dismiss [officials] and influence the composition of territorial election commissions. Territorial commissions can influence district commissions. Unfortunately, it turns out that sometimes, seeing such abuses, we can only wag a finger. I believe that lawmakers will consider the proposals that we will prepare to streamline the system.

Vladimir Putin: You know, even in the state administration system we have situations where a superior official can only wag his finger. For example, municipalities, which are not part of the government system, have special powers. And of course, regional leaders (the regions are part of the government system) have plenty of levers to influence large municipalities but that is not always enough to efficiently organise their work, and this is something of a drawback. However, reality is more complex and diverse.

You just mentioned the fact that we have a federal state and there are corresponding decisions – if we stay within the framework of this example – related to the special role of municipalities, and in accordance with the international documents to which we adhere because we signed them, they should have a set of specific powers.

So the problem that you have raised is of a systemic character and it shows through in different spheres. Although of course, if we come up against some problems that require special attention and consideration they should be addressed and ways of streamlining this system should definitely be analysed.

Now regarding my attitude toward our colleagues at the regional level. Surely everyone has seen (I will not talk about pre-election and election affairs now) how I deal with those who violate the law, regardless of that person’s political views or position in the political sphere. If a person violates the law, he must be held accountable, responsible for that.

This also applies to the behaviour of leaders at any level in the economic, social and political spheres. Everyone should be on an equal footing here. We will follow the same approach in relation to your sphere of activity.

There is no question that you work in a very important political sphere. What would I like to say to conclude this part of our conversation? The less politicised your work is, the better. It should be technical and organised solely within the bounds of the law. All the requirements should apply to all participants in this process, not on the basis of criteria connected to political sympathies, but connected to only one thing: adherence to the Election Law of the Russian Federation and everything that is related to it.

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