Tina Kandelaki, Russian broadcaster, producer, politician, member of the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation and co-owner of the Apostol Media Group company, talks about the Russian elections.

How do you feel about Putin being re-elected?

Well I was definitely pleased! Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion about Putin, but you can’t deny that he is one of the strongest politicians in modern Russian. He is an extremely strong leader, who continually solves strategic objectives and provides stability in our country after facing serious challenges following the collapse of the USSR.

Neither the opposition nor the party in power can offer an equally strong figure. It’s also worth noting that our present opposition are not capable of producing constructive solutions to develop the existing system.

This was demonstrated a few days ago when I organised a round table in the Public Chamber for the Russian presidential candidates.  It was the first debate of its kind where the experts from the educational field could ask the candidates direct questions about real problems and potential solutions in education system in Russia. None of the other candidates could present real answers and decisions for the current problems facing Russia and nobody had a real program for Russia’s future development.

What do you think this will mean for Russian people?

I think it means further development and stability for Russia as well as bringing about change and democratisation. I’m pretty confident that there will be some political concessions and a package of amendments is being prepared and I think the situation with the opposition will change as well. The party registration will also be simplified. The question is now whether there is actually some real opposition in Russia that is ready and committed to work hard and offer a real and serious program for Russia’s development.

Do you believe the elections were fair?

Well, I can say, that after the December elections the situation changed dramatically. Now we had a chance to check the whole process like never and nowhere before. They were much more open than before.

Firstly, the majority of the polling stations were equipped with web-cameras, which is the first case of this globally. It meant the whole world could keep track of the process of the elections. I think the government is interested in clean and fair elections and they put a lot of money into ensuring that this happened (about 13 billion rubles, $4 billion).

Another new addition to this year’s observation was a large group of about 200,000 observers. I am the head of the biggest corporation of observers ‘For clean elections’, which has approximately 86,000 members and covered 75,000 polling stations in Russia. The Corp was created on the basis of the Coordination Council of Young Lawyers at the end of January.

On 4th March we got 2000 complaints from polling stations from 81 regions of Russia. For example, we noticed officials in a polling station in Dagestan were stuffing ballot boxes with extra votes – I immediately called the Chairman of the People’s Assembly of Dagestan and helped to stop it and the results of the polling station were admitted to be invalid. Another example comes from Moscow and the district of Severnoe Tushino. We received information about “carouselling” and sent our people to the polling station to check it out. Whilst doing so, we found out that there was already a third circle of voting for this group of people – we even had the document with instructions about where to park the bus, who was involved and a map of the carouselling. Despite this, the District Department of Internal Affairs didn’t pay attention for 40 minutes. Every complaint about the elections will be considered separately and we will do our very best to punish the lawbreakers. All cases are being checked now and if complaints are confirmed, we submit each case to court.

So, the clear answer I can give after the 15’th of March when we’ll get the whole picture based on all the protocols which we’ll get from our observers and based on the investigation of all the complains we’ve got.

What do you think Putin’s re-election will mean for the Russian media?

I think the Russia media will keep being very active. They have a strong polarisation now – part of the media follows the government and the other part follows the opposition.

On Russian television, after the cessation of the oligarch’s war and once the channels were no longer owned by the rich, the information wars ended. Political stagnation on television has been a trend in recent years: no debate and no action. After ‘Bolotnaja’ it all changed.

Also I really hope that soon the journalism of opinions will become the journalism of facts!

About the censor – it was interesting after some programs were closed before the elections.

People who make decisions on Russian television do not fully explain their point of view and actions and when there is no explanation, people think it’s censorship. During the election process there is always political conjecture with different media supporting different candidates. Fox News closed Freedom Watch with Andrew Napolitano – not because of a bad show or bad ratings – but because Napolitano supported the Democrats and the channel was considered to be Republican.

Public channels , like First Channel, Russia Channel and NTV are all state channels, which are funded by public companies. They will always represent a pro-government point of view not only in Russia, but also throughout the world.

It’s important not to forget that people who work at the television stations now are used to censorship and the lack of debates. People have become self-censored. I am sure that the piece aired on Posner’s program where we discussed Navalny was not cut due to the heads of First Channel but because of a decision by a separate detractor. However, cuts from the program have been aired which is a disservice to the channel as it attracts underserved attention to the piece as it spreads through the Internet. Nobody forbids channels airing on the Internet.

Another important issue to consider is ratings. Programmes have their own commercial component.

What do you think of the international media coverage of the election?

Well I feel they have a preconceived position and foreign press usually prefer the position of opposition power. They would rather use unverified information than to admit that Putin won in an honest battle. It is a habit for foreign media to presume that ‘we (Russia) are not a democratic country but a county with a totalitarian regime.’

Tina Kandelaki by Vitaliy Ragulin

Tina Kandelaki by Vitaliy Ragulin

They also couldn’t admit that we were ahead of Great Britain and the USA with the fairness of the election – none of those countries made such a huge step forward with the web-cams. The whole world could watch the Russian election in 2012 and it is hard to admit that Russia comes first in the field of democratic institute. For example, we see foreign media quoting from the organisation of observers, ‘Golos’ and its results of elections.

Lets clarify the facts: ‘Golos’ claims that Putin won 54% of the votes according to their protocols. However Golos has got 378 protocols from their observers and 10-15,000 observers.

The Corp of observers “For clean elections” I am head of counts that Putin received 60.9% of votes judging by 9500 protocols received from 86,000 observers from 81 regions of Russia.

Today, we have 50,000 protocols and more results will come soon. After the 15’th of March we will collect and can publish the alternative variant of the results of Central Electoral Commission. None of the observer’s organisations would have such a full database of protocols and the results on those base.

Nobody would notice it again and rely on the poor information from Golos.

Image by Vitaliy Ragulin (Общественная палата.(Канделаки.Столбунов)) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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