ROAR: Russia’s opposition parties choose proportional representation

Single-seat constituencies could be eliminated as the reform of Russia’s political system continues.

The Communists want the current voting system in Russia to be changed and insist on abolishing elections in single-seat constituencies, the media report. The main goal, observers believe, is to deprive the ruling United Russia party of its “advantages” during elections to regional parliaments.

In autumn last year, the Communist Party (CPRF) submitted a bill to the State Duma to change electoral legislation. Regional parliaments should be formed only on the basis of proportional representation from party lists, the Communists say.

Some observers said that this move may be disadvantageous for the ruling party as it gains a lot of seats in the regional parliaments thanks to candidates from single-member districts.

The system of single-seat constituencies has lost its initial meaning and turned into an additional tool of gaining power for United Russia, some deputies from the Communist Party in the parliament have said.

Ideally, a single-member constituency is a possibility for a particular candidate to win without any support from a party, deputy speaker of the State Duma and first deputy chairman of the Communist Party Ivan Melnikov said. “But this idea has been lost long ago,” he added.

“Now the single-member districts are only a mechanism used by United Russia to increase the number of its members,” Melnikov told Interfax news agency. He referred to the fact that the ruling party does not necessarily propose its candidates for these constituencies. It may support independent candidates who may work in a party’s faction after winning the elections.

According to Melnikov, the constituencies allow the ruling party “to gain the majority in regional parliaments.” During elections held on March 14, United Russia received less than 50% of the vote based on party lists, but winning single-member districts brought it an additional 20%, Kommersant newspaper wrote.

Melnikov also mentioned the elections held in October last year to the Moscow City Duma, where only two parties, United Russia and the Communists, are represented. Speaking at the meeting of the State Council in January, President Dmitry Medvedev said that one or two political factions are not enough for any region.

Fair Russia, another opposition party represented in the State Duma, submitted its own bill to the parliament in December last year. It also stipulates that regional elections should be held on the party-list representation.

The representatives of the party, oriented on solving social issues and led by speaker of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov, are certain that their proposals contribute to the president’s efforts to modernize the political system of the country.

Proportional representation will help to stabilize the political structure of regional parliaments and decrease the cost of elections, Fair Russia members believe. They also said the system is working well in some European countries.

Representatives of United Russia have said they are opposing the reform, but stressed that the ruling party would win any elections under any circumstances.

The current electoral system meets the requirements of voters, believes Irina Yarovaya, Duma deputy from United Russia. “Only parties which do not have strong candidates are promoting the abrogation of elections in single-seat constituencies,” the party’s official website quoted her as saying.

Such parties also “lack professional and successful politicians,” she said. “The result depends not only on which party a candidate belongs to, but also his personality,” she stressed.

“United Russia is ready to propose its candidates to the organs of power under any voting system,” Yarovaya said. “However, we under no circumstances are going to be led in this by the Communists, who cannot decide for a long time which system they prefer.”

“We believe that the present electoral system in regions is fully corresponding to the procedure of forming representative bodies of power,” the deputy said.

The Russian parliament is elected only on the basis of proportional representation from party lists. However, elections to regional parliaments are conducted on a mixed system, when 50% of the deputies are elected on proportional system and the remaining 50% come from single-seat districts.

Meanwhile, the voting system may actually be changed thanks to legislation that is being developed by the Kremlin, the media say. The working group created in December last year at the initiative of the president proposes to hold regional elections based only on a proportional system like the polls to the State Duma, Kommersant daily said.

The group consists of representatives from all seven registered parties, the Pubic Chamber, Central Election Commission and the presidential administration.

Opposition parties are also not satisfied with the mixed system, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote. The final decision may be taken by the end of the year, it added. It is not ruled out that electoral campaign due in March 2011 may be conducted based only on proportional system, the paper noted.

“The last elections held in eight regions showed that United Russia was not very successful in elections based on party lists, gaining, with some exceptions, little more than 40%,” the paper said. “They gain majority in parliaments thanks to candidates winning single-member constituencies.”

If a party loses the majority in a regional parliament, it will be more difficult for it to propose candidates for governors who are appointed by the president. The paper does not rule out that soon United Russia will have to build coalitions with other parties at a regional level for this purpose.

Meeting with the United Russia’s leadership in the end of last year, Medvedev asked them if they were ready to propose candidates for governors from other parties, but they refrained from the answer, Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted.

Some observers do not support the possible abrogation of single-seat constituencies. It would be a mistake, believes Evgeny Minchenko, director of International Institute for Political Expertise.

He described single-seat constituencies as one of the few “social elevators ”that allow people who do not belong to the establishment to advance in politics “bypassing party bureaucracy.”

Some politicians also stress that eliminating these constituencies will give advantage to the parties represented in the State Duma over those that do not have deputies in the parliament.

The move may be advantageous for parties, especially for opposition ones, “but it infringes on the right of ordinary voters,” leader of the liberal Yabloko party Sergey Mitrokhin told Kommersant. Not all citizens now are interested in the existing parties, but they could vote for candidates in single-seat districts, he stressed.

Sergey Borisov
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT