Opposition shocked by mandatory primaries proposal

A volunteer from the United Russia party is working at the primaries to select candidates from the All-Russia Popular Front for seats in the State Duma (RIA Novosti / Alexey Danichev)
Primary elections could become compulsory for all political parties in Russia. The idea was put forward at the All-Russia Popular Front’s meeting on Tuesday, which was devoted to the preliminary results of the movement’s primaries.

Speaking at the gathering, Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin suggested amending the law to make it possible.

"I would like to ask you to consider and discuss with your colleagues from other political parties ways of making such preliminary elections a legally binding norm," Putin said at a meeting of the Coordination Council of the All-Russia Popular Front.

The premier – who leads both the majority United Russia party and the Popular Front movement – personally asked Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of his party’s Supreme Council, to consider this issue and discuss it with fellow party members.

Gryzlov, who is also the State Duma speaker, commented on the proposal, saying that all in all, three laws should be amended.  However, he also added that the changes would be very minor, sometimes limited to one phrase. He stressed that while primaries should become mandatory, the process of holding them should be defined by political parties themselves and fixed in their party charters.

Meanwhile, the opposition is not really thrilled by Putin’s new initiative.

The leader of the liberal “Yabloko” party, Sergey Mitrokhin, said the idea was an attempt to interfere in the parties’ internal affairs.

“Leave us alone and stop imposing [on us] United Russia’s events which mimic democracy,” he said in his comment to Interfax.

The Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR) expressed a similar opinion, saying the implementation of the premier’s proposal would be unacceptable. Igor Lebedev, the leader the LDPR faction in the Duma, pointed out that as of today, political parties act in accordance with the law and with their charters which have registered by the Ministry of Justice.He went on to state that this “corresponds with the traditions of democracy”.

Lebedev also noted that if primaries were made mandatory, it would be “logical” if the parties were then told which candidates should be accepted into the State Duma and which ones would be unwelcome.

The communists said they were “shocked” by the proposal. First Deputy Chairman of the Communist Party's Central Committee, State Duma Deputy Speaker Ivan Melnikov, believes the idea is flat out illegal.

“Frankly speaking, not only [the Communist Party] but the entire Russian political system should be somewhat shocked by such statements. The leader of the ruling party – especially the one who maintains authority as the second head of state – is making an attempt to interfere into the internal political life of other participants in the political process, including the opposition,” Melnikov observed.

Currently, United Russia is the only party in the country that actively uses the practice of selecting candidates for parliamentary elections via primaries. Gearing up for the December 4 State Duma elections, the faction kicked off its primaries for the Popular Front on July 21.

The ruling party lists of candidates for elections to the lower house will be based on the results of this initial stage of voting, which is scheduled to be complete by August 25. The final list of 600 candidates – which will include both the United Russia and Popular Front members – will be approved at the party’s summit on September 23-24.

While United Russia is purely a political party, the Front – Putin’s brainchild – unites varied organizations such as trade unions, youth movements, and veterans’ groups, among others. It was established to allow people to take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections without actually joining a political party. United Russia promised to give 150 of its seats in the parliament to members from the Popular Front.

On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Popular Front, Vladimir Putin said the number of candidates from the Front on United Russia’s election list could be even higher.

“Assessing the results of the preliminary voting now, I think that there could be even more than 150 people, as some interesting people have in fact emerged," he said, as cited by Interfax.