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The liberalization of Russia’s harsh law on political parties announced last year by the then President Dmitry Medvedev as part of a political reform in the country might result in an utter chaos, experts say. The opposition, both parliamentary and off-parliament, says it might play into the hands of the ruling party. Meanwhile, the authorities have embarked on path of building new parties.
As of June 14, as many as 21 political parties were officially registered in Russia. Moreover, the ministry of justice has more than 170 registration applications. Experts say that in a couple of months there will be at least 50 authorized political organizations throughout Russia, and they all will have the right to take part in elections of all levels.
Back in March, the Russian State Duma lower parliament house passed amendments to the federal law on political parties simplifying registration procedures. Under the amended law, the minimum membership threshold was brought down 80-fold – from 40,000 to 500. A party now may not be refused registration without explaining reasons for denial. Moreover, a party now has the right to challenge such refusal. The new law also cancels lower limits of the number of party members in regional branches, which are to be formed in at least half of Russia’s constituent regions. No party can now be wound up because of an “insufficient number of members.”
A registration wave emerged in late May, when nearly each day saw the registration of yet another party, along with the already existing seven official parties and the Republican Party that had been revived in line with the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
Despite the law’s provision prohibiting the use of names resembling the names of the existing or already non-existent political parties “to the degree of confusion,” the list of applicants features a lot of similar or partially conterminous names. The ministry of justice sees no problem in this state of things, saying that a founding congress may easily change the name. The most popular name is a Party Against All. There are several monarchist and several Cossack parties. Among most popular terms are “Free Russia” and “Party of Pensioners” accompanied by a range of various attributes. There are more than one Socio-Democratic and Libertarian parties as well.
The party field is blooming but they are mostly ill weeds that grow apace, the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper cites political scientist Valry Khomyakov. “So far, it is only the Republican Party that looks serious from among the tyros,” he said. In his words, the weeds might grow so robust that there could be no room for real crops.
The opposition fears that such a “liberalization” might result in a “political mess,” which will be beneficial only to the ruling party – it might use the tactic of creating interceptor parties to hinder its opponents.
According to Sergei Obukhov, a secretary of the Communist party’s central committee, it was a deliberate plan of the authorities to create a controlled chaos in the party sphere. The slogan “Let 100 flowers bloom” looks quite OK, he said, but the opposition is fully aware of how might be affected by it. And Obukhov knows what he is saying – one of the neophyte parties is abbreviated as KPSS, a Russian abbreviation that used to stand for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Now it means Communist Party of Social Justice.
According to another opposition leader, Andrei Dunayev of the Right Cause party, the new law does expand the political space but it no way makes the political system more efficient. “Tens of parties with their ambitions and intrigues will emerge, it is a very serious threat,” he said.
The mass media however note that the Kremlin administration is seriously set to add pro-Kremlin forces to the party palette. Thus, the Izvestiya newspaper cites several sources close to the Kremlin as saying that the Kremlin will focus on youth parties of the type of the pro-Kremlin youth organizations Nashi (Ours) and Young Guards.
The newspaper refers to its sources reporting about massed registration of regional branches in Russian constituent regions. Among such parties awaiting registration are Smart Russia, Ruling Party, Young Russia, Young Guards. The sources explain the focus on youth organizations by growing protest activity of this electorate.
“For a long time, United Russia has been relying on a “Kremlin crutch.” Now we want it to learn to walk and maybe run by itself. And it takes competition. So, it is our deliberate choice to create many youth parties and organizations,” another high-ranking source in the Kremlin administration told the Izvestia.
The authorities however are not going to stop at that. Next they plan to engineer interceptor parties for grown-up electorate, such as the Agrarian Party, the Workers’ Party and Cities of Russia. “These parties will be half-opposition to steal votes from Ryzhkov-Kasyanov and the like when they obtain registration,” the newspaper cites the source.
The Kremlin is quite rational, says political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko. “This is the underlying principle of the entire political system of the Unite States: too simple party registration procedures give birth to so many of them that it is absolutely ruled out that a real rival to the two key players may emerge. We will have practically the same: the authorities also want to dilute the opposition,” he said.
MOSCOW, June 15