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President alone can veto bill on violations at rallies

June 07, 2012, 15:06 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, June 7 (Itar-Tass) —— The law tightening responsibility for abuse committed at street demonstrations and rallies, which drew stormy protests from the Opposition and civil society in general, has undergone all required law-making procedures and now not only a presidential veto can prevent it from taking effect. However, very few believe such an outcome.

The law, adopted within a record-tight deadline, with the aim of having it effective by the Opposition’s March of Millions, due on June 12, may trigger more protests, experts have been warning. Many Russians believe that it will be adopted for the sole purpose of stemming the tide of protests, and that will merely turn the situation from bad to worse.

The law not only raises fines for the existing administrative abuse, but also complements the Code of Administrative Offences with a number of new corpora delicti. For which the fines will be the highest – for instance, 300,000 rubles for the organization, participation in and propaganda of protest “popular strolls” in case they cause harm to other people or their property.

The amendments to the Code of Administrative Offences were adopted by the State Duma late Tuesday night after a 12-hour-long discussion. And on Wednesday it took the Federation Council (the upper house of parliament) just one hour to adopt it.

In the State Duma the adoption of the law was slowed down by a group of legislators from the A Just Russia party. They had proposed more than 400 amendments and demanded that each one be discussed separately. United Russia struggled against this with every means available. The time reserved for the discussion of each of the amendments was reduced from the usual three minutes to fifteen seconds, and the bill was eventually approved by a 241-majority-vote minutes before the midnight.

Analysts believe the very instance the Opposition managed to dictate this mode of discussion to the authorities is quite telling. In the previous State Duma such a situation was just inconceivable.

The Federation Council voted for the law far quicker – in less than one hour. The general mood of the upper house members, who approved the bill unanimously less one 'nay’, has been expressed by Oleg Panteleyev. He said that “the regions do not accept rallying or round-the-clock vigils in public parks, the people wait for us to make them a holiday present and establish the supremacy of the law over lawlessness.”

Not only oppositional activists have come out against the law. Former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin has called for the early revision of the norms the State Duma has adopted, and for consideration of an alternative bill, drafted by experts of the Committee for Civil Initiatives that he leads himself and the Institute of Modern Development (INSOR).

The head of the presidential council for the development of civil society and human rights, Mikhail Fedotov, may dispatch to Vladimir Putin a message and a conclusion of experts with a request for vetoing the bill.

The leader of the A Just Russia faction, Sergei Mironov, has asked Putin on behalf of the faction not to sign the bill into law.

The leading non-governmental organizations are going to address the president with a similar request, too. “We shall be asking him, demanding and suggesting that he should veto the bill, said the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alexeyeva.

The former USSR president, Mikhail Gorbachev, is strongly critical of the bill. “This is an act of arbitrariness. I’m certain that society will reject it,” Gorbachev said on Wednesday. He also expressed the hope that Putin would not sign the bill.

“Putin will be fundamentally against only in one case – if the law contradicts the universally recognized practices applied in other countries concerning the implementation of the rights of citizens and members of society that the law encompasses,” presidential press-secretary Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday. He said the president was still to read the bill, because “many amendments, naturally, were made in the process of the discussion, and the final version of the law is to be studied closely.”

At a news conference following the Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg last Sunday Putin said: “The sole thing that we must do is to complement our legislation with the norms of European law that are used in many European countries to regulate events of this sort, and which, certainly, are democratic, but at the same time create a certain regime for holding mass events.”

“Honestly speaking, the arguments for vetoing the bill are few. It has been amended and some notorious clauses have been removed from it. United Russia pushed it through rather harshly,” the daily Kommersant quotes political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko as saying. “Vetoing the law would be tantamount to giving United Russia a very underserved slap on the face.” He sees no reasons why the president might make such a gesture. “To woo the liberal circles? Putin has already demonstrated that he cares little about the opinion of that audience.” Besides, such a step may encourage the Opposition to take further action, the expert believes.

The Opposition – both inside and outside parliament – is not going to give in. The Communist Party has said that it will protest the bill in the Constitutional Court. The out-of-parliament Opposition is preparing to stage a street procession it calls the March of Millions. The leaders of street opposition have not yet agreed with the Moscow authorities a single route for their demonstration, though.

In the meantime, a Levada-Center poll has found that Russia’s population believes the authorities have taken an excessively hard line, and the refusal to negotiate with the Opposition is wrong.

Most people are against brutalities in dispersing protesters. Fifty one percent believe that the OMON riot police should not be used against peace assemblies, while 31 percent think otherwise.

A tiny 17 percent believe that the introduction of high fines for abuse in holding street demonstrations is the right and adequate measure. Another 26 percent like the idea of fines, but those established in the United Russia-authored bill are too high and disproportionate to the hypothetical threats to society. A total of 38 percent believe that the law is being adopted for the sole purpose of stemming the tide of protests or for cracking down on participants in anti-Putin protests.

President Vladimir Putin should agree to contacts with the leaders of mass demonstrations, 67 percent of the polled believe. But only 33 percent say there really exists such a possibility (in contrast to 35 percent in January). Forty five percent of Russians (in contrast to 32 percent in January) believe that Putin will be trying to take a harder line against the out-of-parliament Opposition and activists of civil movements.