President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Pamfilova, the elections will be held in September, and campaigning has essentially already begun. How is everything going?
Chairperson of the Central Election Commission Ella Pamfilova: It is in full swing, proceeding normally and without any kind of malfunction to date. But since we are taking a big test with voters looking on, of course, our main goal remains as important as ever – from election to election, to increase confidence in elections themselves and in the electoral system as a whole. Because this is a guarantee of legitimacy and, as a result, stability in the country.
Despite all the current challenges, we still consistently defend our main principle – that elections should be as open and transparent as possible. I want to honestly say that our transparency and openness is much higher than in those unfriendly countries that consider themselves democratic. That is the truth.
Obviously, we are considering the current threats and taking certain preventive measures.
To make this trust grow, we attach great importance to monitoring, which is developing and expanding. I want to note that the monitoring is multilayer. The first level is represented by commissions which include representatives of all incumbent parties. As they compete in elections, this internal self-control has proved to be working.
Secondly, there is an increasing number of observers representing candidates and parties that can work at polling stations during voting.
Thirdly, we see the development in public monitoring, with our public chambers involving members of civil society who are willing to monitor the elections.
The fourth highly important factor is video surveillance. We are expanding efforts in this regard; previously, it was used solely at federal elections, while now we can see it in all regions at regional elections.
Of course, we had to take certain measures in view of cyberattacks and cybersecurity threats to protect this system and make sure it operates reliably during elections.
Mr President, I should also note that, regrettably, the COVID-19 pandemic is not yet behind us, although the number of infections has dropped. Obviously, we are taking all necessary measures to ensure sanitary and epidemiological safety. And it is very good that in most regions, where major campaigns are underway, our colleagues have proactively taken the decision to introduce three-day voting. This format is a powerful preventive measure as such; moreover, all surveys have revealed that our voters actually enjoyed this format, which is very relevant due to its convenience.
As regards the regions that organise one- or two-day voting, all necessary measures are also being taken there given the current epidemiological situation in accordance with our recommendations developed jointly with Rospotrebnadzor, and we are monitoring this process.
Looking back on those years of the pandemic, we had to learn how to work effectively even in such conditions; this served as a powerful impetus for us to develop digitalisation of the entire electoral process with even greater activity as this is very efficient and convenient for voters. For instance, we are using a very popular AI-based verification of signatures in support of candidates. This is a very important process.
We launched about 20 service options on the gosuslugi government services and the Central Electoral Commission websites. They have much to offer; I will not list every option but even these services allow any voter, without leaving their home, to instantly see all information on any political party, observers, to find their polling station, its number and address, and, to emphasise once again, to submit an online application for home voting, or using the mobile voter format, or even voting remotely. This year, seven regions along with Moscow have expressed their willingness to utilise this innovative feature along with the traditional voting option.
Vladimir Putin: And the objectivity of voting is ensured.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, of course. This is our main goal.
I would like to note that while using all these numerous services we have to consider cyberattacks and cybersecurity threats, which are constantly occurring, plus our unfriendly, so to say…
Vladimir Putin: Opponents.
Ella Pamfilova: Yes, opponents, even though they see us as an enemy and an adversary. Their numerous pro-Western anti-Russian organisations as well as the controlled media are spreading all sorts of fake news. This has been the case until now and will only continue to increase. We are aware of this and are taking efforts, mostly successfully but sometimes we receive blows; yet, we can expect where they will attack us next time and take preventive measures.
Vladimir Putin: We have 22 parties that have already registered their candidates, right?
Ella Pamfilova: In fact, there are 29 parties that have the right to do this. Of these, 24 parties have nominated their candidates, 22 parties have registered candidates. I would like to note that this campaign has been special. During my tenure, I cannot recall any other elections that went so smoothly at the current stage. And not only smoothly, but in a very proper and responsible manner, and this is worth a lot. And yet, the current elections are not a swamp of some sort.
We have a fairly high level of competition: there are five candidates in the regions that elect their governors, and an average of six candidates in the regions that elect deputies to legislative assemblies. Another very important aspect of this campaign is that the number of candidates who are refused registration is at an all-time low: about three percent overall for all levels of elections. As for the candidates nominated directly from the parties, the amount is negligible, less than one percent.
Here, I would emphasise the mutual respect from commissions, parties and candidates; at our commissions, the atmosphere is as friendly and attentive as ever, they have provided consultations and helped with drawing up documents – that is, they provided assistance to candidates and parties. On the other hand, the parties themselves are acting more responsibly than before; all parties, particularly the parliamentary ones, have been very responsible in nominating their candidates, very deserving candidates, and they were more proficient in preparing documents as well as many other things. The campaign is going very well.
Vladimir Putin: About 4,700 campaigns and referendums are expected?
Ella Pamfilova: Yes. Only three regions will not hold any elections at all. We have elections of highest officials in 18 regions plus elections to legislative assemblies in six regions. Municipal elections will take place in 11 regional centres, and so on. This is a massive campaign in any case.
Vladimir Putin: I have checked, over 70,500 candidates have already been registered.
Ella Pamfilova: That’s right. The unprecedentedly low number of registration refusals is also very notable. Another important aspect of this campaign is that it is proceeding in a positive and respectful atmosphere, with competitors showing high regard for each other. So far, no complaints have been registered by the Central Election Commission that would require consideration directly at the Commission. This is another very important aspect of this campaign.
Speaking of the most important thing as regards our parties: despite political, ideological, social, economic and other differences, they all – maybe except a single insignificant exception – have turned out to be united in expressing support of the special military operation and their willingness to make a feasible contribution to our victory, our inevitable victory, because the truth is on our side, justice is on our side, and all sensible people are sure of this. This is very important. Basically, everyone understands that people’s unity is now more important than it has ever been. It is important for all of us to pull ourselves together in order to defeat those who have practically led mankind to a dead end and deprived it of any possibility of natural development. That is, mankind is left with only one path: a path of degradation. And it is obvious that Russia is leading the way out of this impasse, and all people, not only in Russia, many people understand this. I think this is our strength. And I want to thank the representatives of our political parties for being united.
First, we must win and then look into the nuances and things that separate us.
Vladimir Putin: In order for us to feel confident, first of all we must have a strong foundation: a reliable, developing democratic political system. Hopefully, the elections will contribute to this, I have no doubt about it. Of course, members of election commissions at all levels will bear a great burden of responsibility. If you need any additional assistance from the government, I am always at your service, and you can contact me directly any time.
Ella Pamfilova: Thank you, Mr President.
If I may, I would like to mention once again that we stay focused despite all this, as blows come one after another. I would like to provide an example of the recent joint “creative efforts” from those who left Russia and found themselves a hideout in the former Soviet Baltic republics, which turned into an anti-Russian viper’s nest, and in similar countries (and I mean that they act like servants of these countries). Together with those who stayed in our country – who are acting more cautiously, but acting nonetheless – they have launched a massive fake news campaign, hoping that it will serve as a catalyst for long-term processes…
Vladimir Putin: What kind of fake news?
Ella Pamfilova: You know, I initially thought they would target the upcoming campaign, and then they would build up their efforts during the presidential campaign. But instead, they targeted the previous campaign and decided to plant information claiming that deputies are illegitimate and the signed agreements with the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics have no force. They went too far. But this bubble burst instantly as even experts, who are rather critical of us, were simply appalled. I believe there are going to be many such bubbles, but I am confident we will overcome this.
Vladimir Putin: I have no doubt. And of course, all candidates need to be treated objectively. I look at the number of candidates from various political forces and parties who were refused registration – and each party is represented here: United Russia, Liberal Democratic Party, Communist Party, and A Just Russia. What are the reasons for this? Could it be due to improper documentation?
Ella Pamfilova: Yes. Some candidates failed to provide all the necessary information, which was found out later in the process, and the parties themselves chose to withdraw some candidates for various reasons, including political ones. But this is an unprecedentedly low number of refusals as everything was interpreted in favour of candidates.