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In his last, fourth message to the Federal Assembly in the capacity of Russia’s president Dmitry Medvedev proposed a reform of the country’s political system. In fact, he suggested restoring what was eliminated in the years of Vladimir Putin’s two successive presidencies for the sake of strengthening the vertical chain of command and strengthening stability.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin days before the presidential message was the first to discuss acute political themes with the nation. On December 15 he held his traditional annual live phone-in show on television to spend four and a half hours answering questions. Putin then hinted at some sort of liberalization of the Russian political system. He mentioned the possibility of restoring the direct elections of governors, although from a list of candidates that had managed to pass through what he described as the presidential “filter,” and of easing the rules of registration of oppositional political parties.
At the beginning of his message Medvedev touched upon the situation following the State Duma elections and mass protest demonstrations. He declared the impermissibility of attempts to manipulate people and incite social discord.
“That society is changing and the people have been more active in expressing their position and in addressing the authorities with legitimate claims is a good sign. It is an indication our democracy is maturing. In my opinion, this is a good trend, which will benefit our country as growing political competition, which forces better work and faster response to the problems of millions of Russian families,” the head of state said.
He promised to declare measures he would like to be adopted in the near future “to let the people have more chances to influence the policies of the Russian state, and the adoption of any decisions concerning their rights and interests.”
“The right of people to express their opinion in any legal way is guaranteed. But attempts to manipulate Russian citizens, to mislead them, to incite social discord in society are unacceptable,” the president said. “Russia needs democracy, and not chaos. It needs faith in the future and justice.”
The president, whose term is expiring next spring, proposed a comprehensive reform of the political system of Russia, envisaging restoration of the direct elections of governors and proportionate representation in the State Duma from territorial constituencies. Medvedev said that he had turned an attentive ear to “those who point to the need for change” and that he understood them.
His fist proposal was that for transition to “the direct elections of the heads of the Federation’s territories by the residents.” The current rule is candidates for the gubernatorial posts are proposed to the president by the party that has emerged the winner in the elections of the legislative assembly of the corresponding region, and then approved by the regional parliament in case of approval by the head of state.
Medvedev also said that it is necessary to introduce simper rules of registering political parties.
“My proposal is for registering parties at the request of 500 individuals representing no less than 50 percent of the country’s regions,” he said.
Under the current legislation each party must have no less than 40,000 members and regional offices with no less than 400 members each in more than half of Russia’s territories.
Also, the president called for canceling the need for collecting signatures for participation in the State Duma elections and the elections of regional legislative bodies and for reducing the number of signatures a candidate must collect to participate in the presidential election to 300,000, and for candidates from non-parliamentary parties, to 100,000. Under the existing law on the election of the Russian president self-nominated candidates and contenders from parliamentary parties have to collect no less than two million signatures in their support.
Also, Medvedev came out with an initiative for changing the system of elections to the State Duma. “I regard it feasible to introduce proportionate representations from 225 territorial constituencies for strengthening contact between the legislators and their electorate,” he said. He believes that “this measure will allow each territory to have its direct representative in parliament.”
At present the 450 members of the State Duma are elected on party tickets in one federal constituency.
Also, the president called for changing the rules of forming the central and regional election commissions. “The representations of political parties in the election commissions must be expanded, and the parties are to get the right to recall their representatives ahead of time, if need be,” he believes.
Medvedev promised to submit the corresponding bills to the State Duma in the near future.
Just six months ago President Medvedev had no intention of restoring the gubernatorial elections, which were canceled by his predecessor, Vladimir Putin. In May 2011 Medvedev said that even if that was going to happen someday, it should be expected in 10-15 years time, because “the prerequisites must mature first.”
“I believe that in the near future, in the foreseeable future this procedure should be preserved in its current shape, because it allows for running the state rather effectively,” Medvedev said. “But I do agree that after a certain number of years it may be changed, not by me, but, say, by those who will be working in ten to fifteen years to come.”
Medvedev also said that the leadership of Russia would be gradually decentralizing power over a period of several years.
“A package of bills on decentralization will be submitted to the State Duma. Its implementation will make it possible to carry out a fundamental redistribution of bodies of power and budgetary resources in favor of regions and municipalities,” Medvedev said. “Naturally, we shall be doing that step by step, over several years, within the framework of the next political cycle.”
As the president said, the Russian army has begun the transition to becoming a professional one. “Next year there will be 220,000 officers serving on contract, and over 180,000 privates and sergeants on contract,” Medvedev said, adding that the strength of the Russian armed forces in 2010 was one million.
As he dwelt on the theme of struggle with corruption, Medvedev suggested establishing control of the spending of civil servants on real estate, transport vehicles and securities. “I believe it would be correct to introduce control of the spending of persons holding state posts in the Russian Federation and some positions in the federal civil service in those cases where the spending of these persons obviously disagrees with their incomes,” Medvedev said. “This will require declaration of major spending on the purchases of land, other real estate, transport vehicles and securities.”
He also called for expanding the list of civil servants who are obliged to declare incomes.
It is noteworthy that just a month ago the head of state took a different position on the issue. At a meeting with representatives of the mass media of the Volga Federal District on November 18 one of the journalists asked the president if he thought it was the right time for declaring not must incomes, but spending as well.
“This is possible, but it must be done very carefully,” Medvedev said.
He expressed the opinion that in the current context income declaration “may turn into either a means of settling scores, or a system that would be capable of provoking corruption – ‘you must share with us, otherwise we shall be persecuting you for great incomes throughout your lifetime’.” He recalled that in the world there were very few countries where the declaration of spending was mandatory.
In his address to the national parliament on Thursday Medvedev promised that the mechanism of an open government would begin to work in several weeks’ time.
“I have suggested going beyond the bounds of the established institutions and creating a greater - or probably it would be better to call it ‘open government’, that would unite for the sake of addressing strategic and day-to-day issues all levels and branches of power, public figures, prepared to participate in the processes of running the state and in developing and scrutinizing the most important decisions and programs,” he said.
Medvedev sees that open government as a “social lift for the most active and talented people, as a personnel reserve for the central and regional bodies of power.”
MOSCOW, December 22