Speech at a Meeting of Heads of Regional Election Commissions 2000-05-06 00:00:00 Moscow Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon. To begin with, I would like to thank Alexander Veshnyakov, his colleagues, the Central Election Commission, and all those who took part in this difficult work for their efforts. To my mind, you began, conducted and finished it at the highest professional level. You are that sort of people who shoulder the main burden during these campaigns. And I think you are all people of a special cast who, despite their sympathies and antipathies, manage to remain loyal to the law. Understandably, this is not so simple. But I think you have done it. A good deal depends on you in the sense that moral and ethical standards in this country hinge on your professional skills, because you are the starting point for the formation of authority in any one region and throughout the entire country. And the way you work, the way you line up your activities gives a great impulse to the whole of society. I think – no, I am certain – that this time you have made a breakthrough. All of us, our population, our people have got tired of the “dirty technologies” we have witnessed all these past years. Maybe the mood of ordinary voters prompted you to change yourselves to a certain extent, making you harsher, more united and – I would say – better organised. All that enabled you to carry out the 2000 presidential campaign at a high professional, political and organizational level, and to avoid many of the unpleasant things we have seen only recently, even in the latest State Duma elections. Today you are having a sort of production meeting, and so I will now go over from general – important, but general – words to nuts and bolts issues. The point I want to make is that although the federal parliamentary and presidential elections are over, you, particularly the people in this audience, are still faced with many problems, because now elections will be held in the regions. Electoral activity is shifting to the regions and this is, in essence and under law, an important aspect of our political work, because the way polls are held and governing bodies formed in the regions determines the way our state will function. In this sense, one might say your work never ends. It is like working in a foundry, because the heat is always there: I do not envy you, but I wish you every success. The past parliamentary and presidential elections have completed another cycle of Russia’s recent history. Society has undergone truly monumental changes over these years. It has learned the ABC’s of democracy, and elections at every level have been the main lesson it learned. As a rule, elections highlight the views and moral qualities of candidates. But most important of all, elections hold elected functionaries responsible before their voters. The new Russian electoral system has taken shape before our very eyes. We have both witnessed and contributed to this process. Ten years ago Russia elected its first people’s deputies, drawing on a wide pool of candidates. Then, as polls went their way, the laws were updated, citizens gained experience, and politicians and their advisors came up with new approaches and technologies. But you have always been able, and ultimately managed, to separate the wheat from the chaff, bona fide methods of campaigning from dishonest methods. Together we have achieved a great deal even over the past six months, particularly in protecting electoral rights. This became possible thanks to a principled stance and active efforts of our election commissions, from the Central Commission down to local ones. We did not sit around, but tried to keep the laws up to date. This means the election commissions are staffed by knowledgeable and caring people who present the Duma with ever new bills and have a good and constructive relationship with it. A bit later, we will perhaps discuss it in greater detail. On the agenda now are elections to a Union Parliament, and the Central Election Commission has already drafted some bills. I would like to dwell here on some sore points and problems related to our electioneering affairs, and to focus on questions to be addressed jointly by the authorities, election commissions, and voters. Without engaged citizen participation we will not be able to turn the tables around. What stands out here? First and foremost, it is, of course, the moral and ethical side of elections. When one just gets used to lies and gutter dirt, it does no good to society. And not only lame laws are to blame. Not everything in life can be regulated through law. During elections of different levels many exercised the ‘anything sells’ mentality. Political victories won through such nasty technologies are, unfortunately not few and far between in our country. As a result, society has almost come to believe that politics is a dirty business, and cannot be anything else given such technologies. I think we all understand that political cynicism erodes the civilian basis of public life, and paves the way to office for political adventurers, demagogic manipulators and rank criminals. That is, of course, everybody’s fault. Some of it falls onto the authorities, which either ignore or connive at these processes. Those present today in this audience are also to blame; I don’t mean specific people, of course, but certain media use their freedom to offend society’s morals. There are issues to discuss with the election commissions themselves, which sometimes shut their eyes to what happens. The laws do not concern morals and honour, but we all must be guided by universal human values which we know well. We must ensure that self-respect and national dignity prevail in society. And elections, wherever they are held – across the entire country or in some particular town or region – must conform to the law and moral rules, and guarantee progress and the free choice of free people. The main principle underlying the work of election commissions, as said at the beginning, is impartiality. And you seek to observe it. We have seen it time and again. I, for one, saw it when the Central Election Commission called the attention of all candidates, including me as a presidential candidate, to observe certain rules of election campaigning. I took note of that at once. I think you could also do a great deal to enhance legal awareness among voters to make the elections more transparent and democratic. So, with this work cut out for you, I wish you every success and extend my sincere thanks to you. All the best!