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Russia: Human rights court makes ruling on allegations of St Petersburg election irregularities

Allegations of serious vote-counting irregularities in St Petersburg’s 2011 poll result, have led Strasbourg judges to rule against Russia, after a right to free elections complaint.

In its 30 May judgement in the case of Davydov and Others v. Russia (application no. 75947/11), the European Court of Human Rights decided that the Russian authorities had failed to ensure an effective review of concerns about vote counting in the city and federal election results.

According to the applicants, 11 Russian nationals who live in St Petersburg, the results for dozens of electoral precincts had been distorted in recounts which largely favoured the ruling party, Yedinaya Rossiya (ER).

The European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been:

a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) to the European Convention on Human Rights as concerned nine of the applicants, in so far as they had been denied effective examination of their complaints about serious irregularities in the procedure in which the votes had been recounted.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction), the court held that Russia was to pay four of the applicants 7,500 euros (EUR) each in respect of non-pecuniary damage. The other applicants did not seek any award. EUR 8,000 was awarded for the applicants’ costs and expenses.

The court found in particular that the applicants had made an arguable claim that the fairness of the elections both to the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly and the State Duma in a number of precincts had been seriously compromised by the procedure in which votes had been recounted.

In particular, the extent of recounting (it concerned over 50,000 votes cast), unclear reasons for ordering it, lack of transparency and breaches of procedural guarantees in carrying it out, as well as the results whereby the ruling party gained votes by large margins (notably, no less than one fifth of votes cast had been reassigned in favour of the ruling party, ER), strongly supported the suspicion of unfairness.

That complaint had been raised before different State authorities which could, at least potentially, be regarded as effective and accessible remedies.

However, none of the avenues employed by the applicants had given them the opportunity for a review of their complaints which would provide sufficient guarantees against arbitrariness. In particular, the courts were empowered to consider complaints from the participants of the electoral process, to obtain and examine relevant evidence and, if the irregularities were sufficiently serious, to overturn the decisions of the relevant electoral commissions.

Yet, the courts had generally refrained from going into the substance of the applicants’ allegations, limiting their analysis to trivial questions of formalities and ignoring evidence pointing to serious and widespread breaches of procedure and transparency.

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