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MOSCOW, June 28 (Itar-Tass) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday presented to the Federation Council a bill on new rules of forming the upper house of parliament. He submitted the bill to the State Duma a little earlier. The upper house consisting of representatives from Russia’s constituent territories will begin to be formed under a new pattern. The people will be given a say in the process. However, this participation will be an indirect one. The reform is based on the version drafted by the Federation Council itself, but at the same time modified by the president. In part, the provision for the direct elections of senators was removed from it.
Some experts say the reform is good, while others argue that as a matter of fact it is not a reform. There have not been any elections in Russia so far and there will not be any.
Currently each region has two representatives in the Federation Council – one is nominated by the legislature of the given territory, and the other, by the executive authorities. Senators are appointed from the body of municipal, regional or federal deputies; the one from the executive authorities is named by the governor in person, and that from the legislative body of power is elected by the regional legislature.
Under the presidential bill the legislature will retain the power of electing a senator, but only from the list of its own members. As for the appointment of senators from the executive authorities, it is linked with the gubernatorial elections. The contender for the post of the governor will be obliged to nominate three likely nominees for a seat in the Federation Council during the election campaign. In case of his election victory the governor is expected to appoint one of the three persons as his representative in the upper house.
As the president has explained, “in fact the one who wants to be elected as governor will present to the people not only himself, but the key members of his team, too, and he will assume full political and personal responsibility for the nominated Federation Council members.”
Putin explained that the three candidates would be proposed precisely for the purpose of ensuring in case of an early termination of this or that senator’s powers the vacated seat should be taken by the next person on the governor’s list.
As the head of state said, the question of direct elections of FC members had been considered, too. The Constitution says that the upper house shall be formed of representatives of the executive and legislative authorities of the аederation’s territories. “There is no indication in it the upper house should be formed on the basis of universal equal and direct suffrage,” Putin said about the new pattern of forming the FC.
In order to implement the idea of direct elections of senators the Constitution will have to be changed, Putin said. “I do not believe that in this case we should do so right away. But in general, at some future date, I believe that will be possible.”
Terminating the powers of FC members will be a far more complicated procedure – they cannot be revoked by the governor or the local legislature. Besides, the bill will lower the age qualification for senators from 35 to 21 years. A five-year residence qualification is introduced for all candidates except for State Duma deputies, senators, or persons who at that moment had a civil service job.
Experts have offered a variety of comments on the proposed reform of the upper house.
According to the general director of the Political Information Center, Alexei Mukhin, who is quoted by the RBC Daily, this initiative may be only welcomed, because the Federation Council will bear “less resemblance to a shop window.”
“This is a very good initiative, which would enable the people to somehow participate directly in delegating senators to the Federation Council, and the lowering of the age qualification for FC members will expand the base from which to select senators,” the political scientist said. “The upper house needs political rehabilitation. It has developed the reputation of “a company of formers and exes,” and something has to be done about that.
The deputy director of the Center for Current Politics, Alexei Zudin, agrees. The expert believes that the proposed measure contributes to enhancing the openness of the political system, and also the role and place of elections in forming the institutions of power. “The Federation Council, hitherto a body that was manned according to rather complicate rules, with the people playing a very insignificant role, is being turned into an institution that the people will be able to man themselves,” the expert said.
However, there are quite a few opposition opinions. The board chairman of the Political Technologies Center, Boris Makarenko, has told Kommersant the residence qualification for senators is not set by the Constitution, and the “provision for three candidates does not hold water.”
“It is not an election of the Federation Council that has been talked about loudly and clearly for ten years now, but a semi-election, the people participate in the procedure only in the capacity of a preliminary filter,” said State Duma Deputy speaker from the A Just Russia party, Nikolai Levichev, who is quoted by the daily Vedomosti. Last February, together with the FC’s former speaker, Sergei Mironov, proposed his own draft reform which envisaged range voting on all candidates for senators, including those from legislatures. “The range of opportunities has narrowed since December,” Levichev said, adding that the other political reforms, promised before the presidential election, are being adopted in a very emasculated form.
“This is a semblance of reform,” says political scientist Alexander Kynev. “There have been no elections of Federation Council members, and there will not be any. Everything will be decided in the process of a get-together behind closed doors. Everybody understands why – for minimizing the independence of Federation Council members.”
As an expert of the election monitoring association Golos, Andrei Buzin, told the Russian service of the BBC, this is not the first law that has changed its meaning in the process of amendments to become more beneficial for the presidential staff. Just recently the same happened to the law on gubernatorial elections. “The proposed version looks more like a face-lifting operation. In that case the presidential staff will be playing a still greater role in appointing senators.”
MOSCOW, June 28