Authorities seek to liberalize political life, but opposition still unhappy

The mention of my article on ITAR-TASS World Service

Writer Lyudmila Alexandrova

The liberalization of   Russia’s political life the authorities began after a   string of mass civil protest demonstrations has produced no   enthusiasm in the ranks of the Opposition inside parliament   or outside it. The amendments to the law on political   parties the State Duma has voted for in the third reading   to liberalize the rules of parties’ establishment and   registration and thereby pave the way for a genuine   multi-party system in Russia have proved a very telling   example. The main reason why the parties are unhappy about   the new law is the existing political forces are reluctant   to operate amid harsh political competition. The Kremlin is   being crafty and it will be using the new law for its own   purposes, some political scientists have warned.

The new law on political parties was initiated by   President Dmitry Medvedev. Besides, the head of state   suggested easing the rules of the nomination of candidates   for seats in legislatures of all levels, and also restoring   the elections of Russia’s governors.

For the first time ever some representatives of   unregistered parties were allowed to take part in drafting   the bill. But their main proposals – for the simple   notification procedure of founding new political parties   and the right to form election blocs – were rejected.

The new law reduced the minimum membership requirement   a party is to meet to be registered from the current 40,000   to just 500. The requirement for the minimum membership of   regional branches of political parties, to be formed in no   less than half of Russia’s member territories, has been   dropped altogether. No party can be abolished for being too   small. At the same time, a decision to annul a party’s   registration can be made, if it fails to take part in   elections for seven years in a row (in contrast to today’s   five-year requirement).

The proposal for setting a political party’s minimum   membership at 500 has drawn criticism from the Opposition,   which fears that this will trigger “political chaos.” The   Communist Party suggested setting the threshold at five   thousand members, and the LDPR, at ten thousand members.   However, the authors of the bill insisted on establishing a   minimum membership of 500 as an issue of fundamental   importance.

The LDPR leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, believes that   the emergence of a plethora of new minor parties will   confuse the electorate and make the procedures of   organizing election campaigns more complex.

The co-chairman of the unregistered Party of People’s   Freedom (Parnas), Boris Nemtsov, said: “The voter will go   crazy, when he or she sees such a weird number of parties   the law now allows for. The electorate will begin to hate   that system, and we do not want to be accomplices to that.”

The leader of the Yabloko party, Sergei Mitrokhin, is   certain that the presidential bill will pose a risk of the   country’s disintegration, because it encourages the   creation of inter-regional parties on account of common   ethnicity or religion. He believes that the situation may   be changed, if the practice of creating election blocs is   restored. “If the ban on creating political blocs is not   lifted, then we shall see overboard far more parties than   we saw in the 1995 election,” he warned.

Experts predict a boom of registration of political   parties in the near future. “Proceeding from the experience   of the previous years I believe that there may be about 100   parties,” said State Duma member Sergei Ivanov.

As at March 20 seventy applications for the   registration of political parties had been submitted to the   Justice Ministry. Among the applicants are the parties   Volya (Will) and Rot Front, which have long sought to enter   official politics. Several projects have been authored by   members of the Right Cause. There are some new-comers to   the scene – the Union of Right Forces and the Republican   Party (both having nothing to do with same-name   organizations that existed before), as well as the No Name   party, Subtropical Russia, the Kind People of Russia, the   Village Party and the Party of Love.

“There will appear several hundred parties,” says the   general director of the Agency of Political and Economic   Communications, Dmitry Orlov, who is quoted by the weekly   Moskovskiye Novosti. He points to the risk of the emergence   of “extremist, lobbyist, and one-man-led parties and   parties servicing specific commercial interests.” However,   there are no means of stopping that process.

“The Opposition runs the risk of encountering the   problem of excessive competition in the political field,   and with not major players, but with tens of miniature   parties,” says the chief of a department at the Political   Technologies Center, Tatyana Stanovaya, on the   website. The Kremlin, she said, has long had an experience   of work in such conditions: for instance, before the party   legislation was tightened in 2003 Russia had had more than   130 parties, but then their number was reduced to 50. After   the introduction of the minimum membership requirement of   50,000 (at the end of 2004) the number of parties reduced   sharply, and today there are a mere seven organizations   registered at the Justice Ministry.

The current easing of the legislation, she said, on the   one hand, does not guarantee the registration of political   parties through notification (which some opposition members   have demanded), and the authorities will retain the   administrative leverage to make a political decision each   time in relation to a specific party. On the other hand, it   creates conditions for the emergence of many players, whose   number and composition will be very easy for the Kremlin to   control, depending on the political tasks on the agenda.

An expert of the association GOLOS, Arkady Lyubarev,   who is quoted by the Novaya Gazeta daily, describes the   change in the authorities’ attitude to some issues that had   been of fundamental importance just recently, in this way:   the Kremlin has exhausted the potential of the “short dog   leash” resource, so it will now be trying to run the show   from a greater distance.


MOSCOW, March 26.


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