Finnish politicians criticise Russian elections

A longtime Finnish foreign minister says the elections do not provide democratic legitimacy to Vladimir Putin's party.

Former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja (SDP) said that the new Russian Duma's legitimacy is open to question. Image: Mikko Ahmajärvi / Yle

Finnish politicians have followed Russia's contested election closely, with concerns expressed in Parliament's foreign affairs committee about the approval of candidates and limits on the activities of international observers.

The three-day election concluded on Sunday, with official results showing President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party taking nearly half of the vote and two-thirds of the seats in the Russian Duma (parliament).

Key opposition figures were banned from running in the elections (siirryt toiseen palveluun), and there were reports of ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation.

The Finnish Parliament's foreign affairs committee's chair, Mika Niikko (Finns), says Russia could be moving further away from the west.

"The elections surely raise concerns among everyone about democracy," said Niikko. "And of course it is also concerning that Europeans are less and less interested in Russia."

Election observers' activities have been limited by Russian officials citing the Covid pandemic, with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) eventually deciding not to send observers.

"At first election observers were shown the green light," said Niikko. Then there was a U-turn just before the election, with only a small group allowed in."

The EU has also criticised an "atmosphere of intimidation" in the lead-up to the election, and criticised Russia's actions around election observers.

Niikko says he is also concerned about media reports of election irregularities, and limits on social media in Russia.

Google and Android removed apps endorsed by opposition leader Alexei Navalny designed to guide voters to the opposition candidate most likely to win in their regions, while YouTube also removed Navalny videos ahead of the election.

Tuomioja: Putin's party does not have the people's support

Erkki Tuomioja (SDP), a former long-time foreign minister and the current vice-chair of the foreign affairs committee, joined the criticism.

He said Russia's electoral system lacks democratic legitimacy.

"These elections cannot in any way be considered honest and free, starting from the candidate registration process, which excluded large numbers of candidates from running," said Tuomioja.

Tuomioja drew attention to the low turnout numbers and the communists' improved support. People did not vote in large numbers even though employers bussed many of their workers to polling stations.

"The only conclusion to draw is that Putin's government and his party don't have a lot of legitimacy and real support from the people," said Tuomioja.

"It's interesting to note that even the communists are already accusing the election authorities of cheating," he added.

Observers from the European Council were on hand, and they will publish their own report on the election in due course.

The European Parliament has said it will not recognise the new Russian Duma if too many election irregularities are proven.

Tuomioja said that despite the problems, Finland will have to work with the new parliament over the eastern border.

"We had businesslike relations even during the Soviet Union, so of course they will continue with this administration too, but it doesn't have any kind of democratic legitimacy," said Tuomioja.

NCP's Virolainen: Opposition voice isn't heard in Russia

Anne-Mari Virolainen (NCP), another member of Parliament's foreign affairs committee, says she is not surprised by the results of the election.

"Turnout seems to have remained surprisingly low, even though people were pressured to vote," said Virolainen.

Virolainen also drew attention to the candidate registration issues.

"The process was such that real opposition voices were not allowed to be heard, because everyone who has criticised the current leadership was barred from running," she said.

Virolainen said the election makes co-operation with the Finnish Parliament more difficult.

"It will surely be pretty difficult, as we cannot trust that these people have been genuinely and democratically elected to these roles," said Virolainen.

"This is surely a slightly bigger discussion than just whether or not we can work with the Russian Duma," said Virolainen.

The opposition National Coalition MP said that the question was a fundamental issue of how democracy, human rights and the principles of a law-based society are respected.