[JURIST] The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation (RCC) [official website] ruled Monday that Russian citizens have the right to challenge parliamentary election results in court within the particular constituency where they originally cast their votes. Last May Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsmen [backgrounder], Vladimir Lukin [official profile] filed a complaint [RIA Novosti report] claiming that regional courts violated the constitution by dismissing citizen’s lawsuits contesting the legality of December 2011 parliamentary polls. The lower courts had interpreted Russia’s procedural code as only granting voting rights up until the precise moment of voting, whereafter only candidates and parties could contest results for narrow reasons. The RCC rejected the lower court’s interpretation, holding Monday that Russian citizens have a constitutional right to litigate the issue of whether their votes have been adequately registered and tallied during parliamentary elections. The judge reportedly noted that election violations and fraudulent polling results undermine citizens’ trust in the government, and subvert foundational tenants of democracy. The decision compels Russia’s legislative assembly to promulgate guidelines for citizens seeking to contest election results as tallied by the Central Elections Commission [official website].
Voting fraud has been a serious concern in Russia in the past. In December 2011 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) issued findings [JURIST report] that 2011 elections were “characterized by frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation.” The report noted that the vote count was assessed was “bad or very bad” in 34 of 115 observed polling stations, voting counts were interrupted and taken out of the view of monitors, there were indications of ballot stuffing in 17 polling stations, vote counting errors were noted in 35 polling stations and in several instances election observers were not shown marked ballots of expelled from the polling station during the counting process. Allegations of voting fraud arose in both the 2007 and 2008 Russia elections as well. In 2008 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed concerns [JURIST report] about Russia’s presidential elections due to alleged media restrictions and polling irregularities. In 2007 election monitoring groups Transparency International [advocacy website] and Golos stated that Russia’s parliamentary elections were rife with fraud and corruption [JURIST report]. Election observers from PACE and OSCE said the parliamentary elections were “not held on a level playing field” [JURIST report] due to strong media bias towards Putin and the United Russia party leading up to the election, widespread reports of harassment of opposition parties and a new election code that made it more difficult for smaller political parties go gain the seven percent of the vote necessary to serve on the State Duma. They also called Putin’s merging of the state with the United Russia party an abuse of power.