Communists want TV duels with opponents to be mandatory

Russia's Communist Party suggests a bill making election campaign TV debates obligatory
With the parliamentary and presidential election seasons fast approaching, the Communist faction has submitted a bill to the State Duma obliging all political parties and presidential candidates to participate in TV and radio debates during their election

The idea was initiated by First Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party's Central Committee, State Duma Deputy Speaker Ivan Melnikov, and First Deputy Chief of the Communist faction in the lower house, Sergey Reshulsky.

The submitted draft law reads that the leader of the party’s list of candidates must take part in at least one round of televised debates, while a presidential candidate must spend at least half of their allocatedairtime for joint presentations to be given on TV, reports Itar-Tass citing Melnikov.

The bill also suggests imposing a penalty for those who fail to take part in the debates. The dodgers would have their free air time cut and would have to pay for the time they have already used.

Melnikov recalled that Gennady Zyuganov, the Communist leader, has always taken part in debates with political opponents. “As far as I know, the leader of the Fair Russia party also has no problems with it,” he said, adding that the new leader of the Right Cause – Mikhail Prokhorov – recently voiced his support of the idea.

"So the question is, as usual, about United Russia. There may be difficulties," Melnikov noted.

The Communists hope that the initiative will be welcomed by President Dmitry Medvedev and the law will be adopted at the beginning of the autumn parliamentary session. The party plans to raise the issue at the upcoming meeting between the president and the leaders of the different parliamentary political factions on July 12.

The MP observed that the current law on the State Duma elections "not only fails to direct the political parties towards active participation in the debates, but actually encourages evasion by giving the political party that shirks debating additional airtime at the taxpayers’ expense".

The Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR) has already vowed to support the bill. However, the faction believes that the legislation is doomed to fail as the ruling United Russia party – led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – will almost certainly oppose it.

Igor Lebedev, the leader of LDPR faction in the Duma, told RIA Novosti that his party approves of the Communists' initiative as they consider “it disrespectful towards Russian voters when an entire political party or a presidential candidate openly reject to participate in the debates”.

He recalled that two years ago, the LDPR put forward a similar idea, though suggesting a tougher punishment for debate dodgers: the party suggested that a candidate who violated the law would simply be disallowed from participating in the election. The idea was called too radical and ultimately rejected.

Lebedev is confident that the new bill will not be supported by the lower house either. “As long as United Russia has a constitutional majority in the parliament, we will not be able to adopt any laws. [The suggested bill] is doomed to fail,” he said.

During the 2007 parliamentary election campaign, United Russia declined to participate in the televised debates and used its allotted airtime to show ads.

“United Russia sees no problem in taking part in the debates,” stated Andrey Isaev, First Deputy Secretary of the Party's Presidium of the General Council, cites RBK website.“But I do not think that we will support the bill since it should be up to a party to decide on whether it will participate in the debates or not.”

Debates that took part without United Russia made the opposition parties participation less effective, Evgeny Minchenko, director of the International Institute of Political Expertise and vice-president of the Russian Public Relations Association (RPRA) told the business daily. It often happens that the leader of a ruling party who debates with politicians who have a lower political status loses, he observed. The very fact of the leader participating in the debates makes one equal to his opponents, while the opposition politicians, on the contrary, score points.