MOSCOW The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticised Russian parliamentary elections on Monday, saying they had been marred by curbs on basic rights and a lack of distinct political alternatives.
Vladimir Putin's political allies won a landslide victory in the election, near final results showed on Monday, paving the way for Putin to run for a fourth term as president in 18 months if, as expected, he chooses to do so.
Ilkka Kanerva, a Finnish parliamentarian and the OSCE's special coordinator for the elections, told a news conference monitors had noted some improvements, including greater transparency when it came to the vote's administration.
But he said the overall picture was beset by problems.
"Legal restrictions on basic rights continue to be a problem. If Russia is to live up to its democratic commitments, greater space is needed for debate and civic engagement," he said.
"Democratic commitments continue to be challenged as the electoral environment was negatively affected by restrictions to fundamental freedoms and political rights, firmly controlled media and a tightening grip on civil society."
Kanerva also said a liberalised party registration process had yet to result in "distinct political alternatives."
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn, Dmitry Solovyov, Polina Devitt; Editing by Christian Lowe)