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Russian authorities pledge cardinal reform of political system

December 16, 2011, 17:52 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The Russian authorities pledged a cardinal reform of the political system that many analytical experts interpreted as the concessions in response to massive protest actions. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is also one of the presidential candidates, said at a question-and-answer session with Russian citizens on Thursday that the Russian authorities are ready to bring back the elections of governors and senators from the Federation Council within a year. He also pledged “to advance towards the liberalization” in the registration of small parties.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also pledged that he will lay out his vision of Russian political system and will take concrete steps to improve it in the near future.

Speaking on a probable revival of direct gubernatorial elections, Vladimir Putin offered a compromising solution: the parties, which won at the regional elections, will nominate their candidates for governorship to the president, who will pass them through “his presidential filter” and will bring back to the region, where local residents will elect a governor from remaining candidates.

The then President Vladimir Putin decided to abolish gubernatorial elections in 2004 after a horrible hostage-taking drama in Beslan. Since then the Russian opposition calls for the revival of these elections from time to time. In October 2010 the Council of Europe introduced a relevant demand in the resolution over the report on the situation in Russian democracy.

Putin stated that the experience of the nineties in the previous century showed that populists and extremists can come to power at direct elections and this “leads too easily to nationalism and separatism,” from which the whole country is suffering.

The prime minister recalled that he invented “personally” the current way to appoint governors, when “the civil war was raging in the Caucasus.” Putin noted that then the candidates for governorship “did not stick at anything” for the coming to power and relied on nationalistic and separatist groups. The abolishment of gubernatorial elections was dictated by the intentions to consolidate the country and “to avert the shaking of the situation,” rather than “the striving to grab more power.”

At present regional parliaments approve the governors upon nomination from the president. The party, which has a majority in the regional Legislative Assembly, correspondingly offers the candidates to the president. This is the United Russia Party nowadays. Putin contemplates that all parties, which are represented in the regional parliament, will be granted the right to offer candidates for governorship. “We should enlarge the base of democracy in the country, when people will have a direct feedback with the authorities: in districts, regions and at the federal level. So, the trust in the current authorities will be growing,” the premier stated. However, the candidates should pass “a presidential filter” before gubernatorial elections, Putin offered.

The prime minister also said at a question-and-answer session about a probable comeback to direct elections of senators from the candidates nominated by the parliamentary parties. “The same can be done with the formation of the upper house of parliament. The candidates from the parties, which won at regional elections, should also pass the presidential filter and their candidacies will be put up for voting of people, who live in the regions, that is to say to form the Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, at direct elections,” he said.

After the question-and-answer session Putin told reporters that he had already discussed with Dmitry Medvedev his initiative for a probable drastic change in the system to appoint governors. The president confirmed Putin’s statement to this effect at a press conference in Brussels after the Russia-EU summit. “As far as I could understand from the media reports, this is a legal structure, which we discussed several days ago,” Medvedev stated.

“This will make it possible to consider a comeback to the elections through a mediating role of the parties, which represent the whole population of our country,” Medvedev pointed out. “This variant could be a good transitional variant,” he added.

“In any case I will spell out the vision of a future Russian political system and will not only lay it out, but will also make concrete steps in the issue,” Medvedev said.

In reply to a question why the People’s Freedom Party (PARNAS) was not registered Putin said on Thursday that he believes it possible to liberalize the registration procedure for the parties. “We can take some steps towards liberalization, register some small parties, but then this should be done in the way it is in some European countries. All our political parties have the access to the media under the law now. For instance, in France they are granted this access depending on the number of seats they gained in national or regional parliaments. Then this becomes fair: a small party gets fewer opportunities, a large party – more opportunities,” Putin stated.

The initiative to bring back direct elections of senators and governors from the candidates nominated by the parliamentary parties had an equivocal response.

The United Russia Party certainly took Putin’s initiative positively. First Deputy Secretary of the United Russia General Council presidium Andrei Isayev called Putin’s proposal as the development of democracy in the country.

Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko also supported this initiative. “I stated repeatedly that this issue is ripe. The procedure to form the upper house of parliament should be understandable for people. They should participate directly in this procedure and influence it. Only in this case it can be said that members of the Federation Council present fully the interests of their whole region, all its residents, rather than only regional authorities. Only in this case the feedback from a slogan and a wish will become real,” Matviyenko stated.

She noted that a working group already functions in the Federation Council in order to formulate relevant proposals.

Secretary of the United Russia General Council presidium Sergei Neverov believes that “this will build up the dialogue with the society.” Meanwhile, “a new procedure to elect governors will make it possible to prevent those with the criminals behind them from coming to power.”

However, the opposition parties took Putin’s statement very sceptically. The Kommersant daily cited Yabloko’s leader Sergei Mitrokhin as saying that the latter does not see “any traces of liberalization” in the proposals of the prime minister. “The elections of governors are offered in a curtailed way, as a result a well-selected candidate will be offered to people to vote for. And no one will be able to promote his candidacy,” he said.

“Direct elections should be held or it is all the same who will be appointed as governor,” Secretary of the CPRF Central Committee Sergei Obukhov said.

A deputy from Just Russia Gennady Gudkov believes that the ruling party “always calls for the revival of elections, but actually it always succeeds to adjust municipal and regional legislations to the current political situation.”

Professor of political science from the Moscow State University Rostislav Turovsky, who is quoted by the daily, called Putin’s initiative as “an illogical response to the previous turning of the screws.” “This is an obvious reaction, by the way probably spontaneous, to massive protests against the rigging of the election results,” he said. “People will not welcome the mixture of authoritarianism and democracy and the institute of elections will remain discredited,” the expert noted.

Expert from the Centre of Political Climate Pavel Salin sees in this move the repetition of the past and the indicator that the authorities are not ready to make any cardinal changes in the political system. “This change in the procedure to vest the governors with powers is far from being drastic,” he believes.

MOSCOW, December 16