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25 Feb, 2010 11:53

ROAR: Russian opposition parties will turn one deputy per faction

ROAR: Russian opposition parties will turn one deputy per faction

President Dmitry Medvedev has submitted bills to the State Duma to make regional elections more transparent and help minor parties get representation in legislative bodies.

One bill submitted to the parliament establishes restrictions on preliminary voting for those who cast their ballot before elections to local government bodies. Medvedev mentioned this type of voting during his address to the Federal Assembly in November, stressing that it often “leads to violations of election rights” during elections to regional legislative bodies.

Russian opposition parties represented in the State Duma demanded that the preliminary voting be abolished, because it makes possible violations such as ballot stuffing. Sergey Mironov, speaker of the Federation Council and the head of the Fair Russia party has described this type of voting as “senseless” in elections with no turnout threshold and no more than 30 per cent of the electorate casting their ballots.

The new bill says that preliminary voting may be held no earlier than 15 days before the elections in remote regions, polar stations and ships at sea. “The repetition of the Sochi mayoral elections in 2009, when half the voters took part in early voting, will be impossible,” Gazeta.ru online newspaper said.

The changes practically rule out the procedure of preliminary voting during elections to local self-government bodies, said Vyacheslav Timchenko, chairman of State Duma Local Government Committee. The bill will be helpful in developing Russian electoral legislation, the deputy stressed.

If the bill is approved, only those citizens will take part in the elections who are absent at the actual time of the voting for certain reasons, in particular those on a business trip, Timchenko was quoted by Rosbalt news agency as saying. The number of such people is not usually more than one per cent of the voters, he said.

In another bill, submitted to the State Duma, the president proposed measures to guarantee the rights of deputies from opposition parties in regional parliaments. “Medvedev is continuing to fulfill proposals that he highlighted in the address to the Federal Assembly,” Infox.ru website said. “Reducing the number of deputies is followed by letting parties form a faction consisting of one deputy,” it added.

In January, the president already submitted a bill to optimize the number of deputies in regional parliaments. Earlier, Medvedev had wondered why Moscow, with its multi-million population, has 35 deputies in the city Duma, while the Republic of Tyva, populated by just over 305,000 people, has 162 in its local legislature, the Great Khural, the website noted.

Medvedev’s new bill gives “additional guarantees” for opposition, Gazeta.ru said. Although the changes are “not too significant,” they bring “some changes to the political system of the country,” the paper noted.

Earlier, if only one candidate from a party’s list made it to the regional parliament, a faction could not be formed. There were cases when even several deputies could not form a faction, Gazeta.ru said. “Thus, opposition parties were deprived of a number of privileges and did not have the full right to seek posts in [a regional] parliament,” it added.

“While decisions are taken, the voices of factions are usually taken into consideration,” Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of State Duma Legislation Committee, told the paper. The possibility for a party to form a faction, even if it consists of only one deputy, “will, of course, increase the importance of representatives of minor parties,” he said.

“This is the right step. Our party had situations where we overcame a 7% threshold, but were not able to form a faction,” said Oleg Shein, deputy head of the Fair Russia faction in the State Duma.

According to the amendments, “microfactions” will be able as others to propose candidacies for positions that are elected by a region’s legislative body, the paper said. Also, “lonely deputies” may be elected themselves to posts in these bodies.

Now parties that get more than five per cent of the vote, but do not overcome a 7 per cent threshold will be able to form a deputies’ union, but they may not join any faction.

“The president’s bill gives minor parties more opportunities for competition with big parties, including the party of the parliament’s majority,” said Oleg Morozov, first deputy speaker of the State Duma. The changes also make the work of minor parties in regional parliaments “more convenient,” Morozov, who is also a member of the bureau of the ruling United Russia’s supreme council, told the party’s website.

“We were waiting for this bill,” Morozov said. “We support this idea of the president, because it is helpful in further reforming the political system and boosting the role of political parties and their influence on the development of political processes.”

“The most important thing is, this bill gives more possibilities to minor parties to be represented in legislative bodies and organs of local self-government, and, correspondingly, to citizens who vote for them,” Morozov noted.

“The absence of representatives of minor parties in legislative bodies means that some citizens do not have their representatives, and the president’s initiative partly solves this problem,” the deputy said.

The representation of minor parties in regional parliaments will be rather insignificant (one or two people), Morozov agrees. But they will get an opportunity “to carry out an equal dialogue with big and mighty parties,” he added. “They actually get rights of factions, and the possibility to work on a permanent basis.”

“Outsider deputies are allowed the rostrum,” Gazeta daily said, describing the changes as a bill on “a one man band” in politics. Some representatives of opposition parties, including Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party and deputy speaker of the State Duma, supported the bill, the paper added.

“We more than once said that the conditions of the work in regional parliaments is different [for some parties], and United Russia has organizational advantages there,” Melnikov told the daily. The president “has responded to our proposal,” Melnikov said.

Medvedev promised in November to take steps to strengthen the party system, not only at the federal level, but also at a regional level, said Leonid Polyakov of the Higher School of Economics. “One of these moves was to allow parties that brought their representatives to regional legislative assemblies to form factions,” he told Actualcomment.ru website.

The situation where one deputy’s opinion is not taken into consideration should have been changed, the analyst added. Now there will be a party represented “with all the rights and commitments of a faction rather than one deputy,” he said.

The deputies forming a faction will be able to make official inquiries, form an agenda and declare their party’s position, Polyakov said. United Russia, which repeatedly “expressed concern that there is no real opposition,” will not hesitate to approve this bill, he believes.

“I think this is a normal process in the concrete situation where the Russian political system is being formed,” Polyakov said. “In the near future, say, after the autumn elections to legislative assemblies of several regions… we will get a situation where one deputy forms a faction.”

Sergey Borisov, RT