ROAR: Russian parties preparing for political modernization

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
President Dmitry Medvedev has discussed possible ways of reforming the political system with leaders of political parties represented in the State Duma.

Medvedev met on January 16 with: Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov, representing the ruling United Russia party; speaker of the Federation Council and leader of Fair Russia Sergey Mironov; the Communist Party’s head Gennady Zyuganov; and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

President Dmitry Medvedev told the parties’ leaders that he had decided to hold a State Council session on the development of the political system on January 22. The meeting will be held in a new format that “includes the regional governors, top federal executives, and all political parties,” he said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily described the forthcoming meeting as “the first political session of the State Council in the history of modern Russia.”

To prepare for this, Medvedev invited the parties’ leaders to discuss “the development of political institutions, of party ones, of parliamentary democracy, of local self-government, of judicial and law enforcement systems.”

“This is all joined in the concept of a ‘political system’,” the president added.

In October, the leaders of the parties represented in the Duma already discussed with the president the problems regarding the implementation of electoral legislation, first of all, in the regions.

Some changes in the political system have already been made after Medvedev had delivered the 2009 presidential address to the Federal Assembly in November. He said he had introduced “one of the draft bills relating to changes in the number of regional parliamentarians.”

Other bills will be prepared in the near future. They concern issues of local self-government and strengthening democracy at the regional and local levels.

The meeting that took place on January 16 has become “a preliminary consultation of the president with parliamentarians,” RBC daily said. The State Council will discuss “a political reform that should make the Russian system more democratic,” the paper added.

Demands of almost all the parties mostly concern elections, the daily said. They include the abrogation of early voting, limitations in voting by absentee ballot, changes in the division of the deputies’ seats in legislative bodies, new approaches to forming electoral commissions, additional mechanisms of monitoring and introducing transparent ballot-boxes, the paper said.

At the same time, parties assess the perspectives of their initiatives in different ways, and that depends on “how close they are to the authorities,” the paper said. Head of the Fair Russia faction in the State Duma Nikolay Levichev is taking part in the preparation of new bills regarding political reform, the paper said. So, the party’s position is “retrained and pragmatic,” it added.

The Communists are more radical, the daily said. “We had been promised changes in the regulations of work of the State Duma, the return of discussions to the parliament and taking the opposition’s opinion into account,” Sergey Obukhov, a deputy from the party, told the paper. He complained that United Russia “has blocked” all these initiatives and stressed that his party does not have great illusions, the paper said.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said that the Communist Party was going to discuss “a question of guarantees for opposition” at the forthcoming meeting of the State Council. Zyuganov may propose to adopt a law on opposition, because many parties “cannot influence the life of the country,” the paper said.

It added, however, that United Russia is preparing counter arguments. Its leaders are ready to tell their opponents that the party constantly “votes for the president’s amendments to make life easier for the opposition.” “They have decided to define the term ‘opposition’ and check their political competitors for their compliance with that definition,” the paper said.

The ruling party may use another argument. “Thanks to the president’s initiatives, the financing of the parties represented in the State Duma has increased fourfold, they have equal access to the media and leading positions in parliament,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said.

At the same time, analysts think that no Russian party could be considered an opposition one in accordance with the right meaning of the word. Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that “a classical opposition has not yet formed in Russia.”

“In the West, there is no system of conflict between opposition and the authorities,” the analyst said. “There is a system of relations based on the understanding that opposition and the authorities may trade their places,” he added. “In other words, society is not afraid to give power to opposition because it understands that the country will not fail after that.”

In Russia, “most of the population does not want the opposition to come to power,” the paper quoted Makarkin as saying. “Russians are quite satisfied with the existing social contract with the current authorities,” he said. “They still remember the chaos that reigned during the 1990s, so they are certain that an opposition is only necessary for decorative purposes.”

Parties represented in the State Duma can be considered shareholders of power because they all have the right to propose legislation, Makarkin said. They are not opposition, but rather “play opposition,” he added. The question arises, “if there is no real opposition, then to whom should one guarantee the rights?” he asked.

The State Council may also discuss “criteria explaining what a responsible opposition is, the opposition that can work as a shadow government and propose real programs of the country’s development rather than resorting to populist initiatives,” the paper said.

Kirill Martynov of the Higher School of Economics also believes that actually there are no parties in Russia. On the eve of the meeting of the State Council, the country’s party system had become a real problem, he told Actualcomment.ru website.

“We have United Russia, the members of which are engaged in politics sometimes, and there are all the other parties that play a decorative role,” Martynov said. “The attempts to create ‘the second party’ have failed because nobody believed in Fair Russia.”

There are proposals to create factions in United Russia and “form a space for discussion in parliament,” Martynov said. It is necessary “to think how to correct the political course to let the party system develop,” he added.

Sergey Borisov, RT