Some observers criticize Estonian elections

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March 8, 2011, 12:17 p.m. | Russia and former Soviet Union — by Interfax-Ukraine

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip
© AP

The electoral system of Estonia cannot be recognized as fully democratic, the director general of the International Election Monitoring Organization CIS-EMO, Alexei Kochetkov, told Interfax on Monday. "The elections to the parliament of Estonia have demonstrated that, despite traditionally positive assessments given by Brussels to Estonia's modern democracy, observers have no grounds to confirm that the electoral system and democratic institutions of Estonia totally meet the standards and requirements set for contemporary democratic states," Kochetkov said.

Although in general the March 6 parliamentary elections in Estonia have been welcomed by CIS-EMO observers, a number of serious complaints have been voiced regarding both the election campaign as a whole and the voting process, he said.

These complaints address both the atmosphere of the election campaign and the vote counting procedure, he said.

"For example, observers think it is very strange that more than one quarter of all of Estonia's registered voters cast their ballots early. By comparison, at the last presidential elections in Ukraine, the percentage of voters who cast their ballots early was far lower, which, however, triggered broad discussions in Ukrainian and Western society, and one of the sides was accused of using prohibited electoral technologies," Kochetkov said.

CIS-EMO observers who worked at the Estonian elections also concluded that the participants in the electoral process did not have equal access to the media, he said.

"Regrettably, during this election campaign residents of Estonia encountered a phenomenon such as moral and psychological pressure put by pro-government and nationalistic media outlets on the opposition during the election campaign," Kochetkov said.

Tendency-driven party ratings were published on the day before the elections with the aim of influencing voters, he said.

"The absence of diversity in the media sector negatively impacted voters' opportunities to make a well-considered choice during the election campaign," he said.

The absence of a law regulating the media in Estonia became a serious obstacle to establishing generally acceptable civilized norms of a political struggle, Kochetkov said.

The majority of representative of Estonia's ethnic minorities did not take part in the elections, although general electoral rights are a key component of any democratic society, he said.

"According to the Citizenship and Migration Department, Estonia is home to 126,000 so-called 'persons with undetermined citizenship', which is around 9.4% of the country's 1.342-million population. "Persons with undetermined citizenship' are not allowed to vote in elections to the Riigikogu [the Estonian Parliament]. The absolute majority of 'persons with undetermined citizenship' coincide with Estonia's ethnic and language minorities," Kochetkov said.

All of the official documents dealing with the 2011 parliamentary elections were only in the Estonian language, "which could evidently have influenced the ability of voters speaking in the Russian language to fully understand the electoral procedures and requirements," CIS-EMO said.

Furthermore, it was impossible to monitor the counting of the ballots cast in the elections because it was handled by the Vote Count server, Kochetkov said.
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