Constitutional Court allows early parliamentary elections in 2016

RIA Novosti / Alexey Malgavko
Russia’s Constitutional Court has decided that it is possible to slightly reduce the term of the current State Duma to move the 2016 poll to a single elections day in September. The court noted, however, that this would be an extraordinary measure.

The Constitution does not exclude the possibility of a one-time change to the federal law that would change the date of forthcoming parliamentary elections and reduce the real term of powers of the current State Duma convocation under the condition that such a reduction is made for the sake of some constitutionally important objectives,” the deputy chairman of the Constitutional Court, Sergey Mavrin, announced Wednesday. The judge emphasized in his statement that the change of the elections date was an extraordinary measure.

The statement came in reply to a request from the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, that asked the Constitutional Court to rule on if it was possible to move the 2016 parliamentary elections from early December to the third Sunday in September – the universal elections day. The request was made after the State Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, on June 19 gave a first reading to a bill ordering the change of poll date.

The court verdict also detailed the conditions under which such move was possible: it must be a one-off, reduce the terms of lawmakers’ powers by a few months at most, and must not interrupt the work of the State Duma or the length of parliamentary terms in general. It also stated that the rescheduling should be announced well in advance so that all political parties had time to prepare for the polls and that the principle of political competition was not violated.

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The head of the Presidential Administration, Sergey Ivanov, earlier told the press that it was not right for the Kremlin to influence the decision on the date of the State Duma elections in any way. He added that as a citizen he saw a rational point in such a step, as it would save a lot of budget funds, but the real decision had to be made by the Constitutional Court and the parliament itself.

The suggestion to move the elections date was almost immediately met with criticism from the parliamentary opposition, especially the Communist Party. Its leader, Gennady Zyuganov, called the step “disrespectful to the country and voters” and said that it would prevent the Communists from holding a proper election campaign. Another of Zyuganov’s concerns was that if the elections were held in September, major political debates would be held and televised in August “when half the people are away on vacation, and the other half are busy bringing in the harvest.”

In response to Wednesday’s decision by the Constitutional Court, Communist Party MP Vadim Solovyov promised that his caucus would contest this ruling in the Constitutional Court, and if this failed in the European Court of Human Rights.

The State Duma has scheduled the second and third hearings of the elections date bill for July 3. Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Federation Council, earlier told reporters that if the bill was passed by the State Duma, the Federation Council would consider it on July 8.