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Authorities seek to liberalize political life, but opposition still unhappy

March 26, 2012, 17:21 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

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.