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The State Duma may get the power to strip its members of legislators’ mandates without waiting for courts to pronounce their decisions, if the newly proposed law is adopted and takes effect. However, even without it the sixth State Duma has already beaten all records as to the number of legislators whose powers may be terminated ahead of time.
The authorities have demonstrated a high-principled approach to the issue. Not only oppositional legislators, but members of the ruling United Russia party may be dismissed.
Federation Council member Anatoly Lyskov the other day came out with a bill describing the rules of early out-of-court termination of powers of both lower and upper house members. The bill proposes stripping legislators of their mandates according to special procedural rules proceeding from the results of an inspection held by the State Duma on its own.
Under the current rules of procedure a legislator’s mandate can be revoked only on the basis of a court verdict. Court prosecution of legislators will be possible only after the State Duma has stripped him or her of immunity at the request of a prosecutor’s office. Lyskov’s proposals merely legalize the procedure of terminating legislators’ mandates that was applied to A Just Russia member Gennady Gudkov and now can be used in relation to other State Duma and Federation Council members found responsible for some wrongdoing.
Lyskov suggested stripping legislators of their mandates under special procedural rules proceeding from the results of a special probe by State Duma bodies. Raising the question of the early termination of powers will be a competence of a group of legislators (of no less than 90), of a State Duma faction, of the leadership of parties that participated in elections, the Prosecutor-General, the Public Chamber and the presidential council for human rights. For this they are to submit a corresponding motion to the State Duma speaker. Then the State Duma speaker would include the issue in the agenda of the lower house’s session. The charges will be probed into by a special panel of inquiry or one of the State Duma’s committees.
The author of the bill explains that the amendments were developed in the wake of frequent inquiries into legislators’ activities incompatible with their powers. For instance, this term applies to business activity, which is prohibited by the law on the status of State Duma members.
Oppositional politician Gennady Gudkov, who took an active part in protest demonstrations, was accused of illegal business activity and stripped of his mandate without a court ruling. The Prosecutor-General’s Office later declared that there had been no reasons for that. A war of compromising evidence flared up. Some members of the A Just Russia party started publishing in the Internet compromising evidence against Duma members from the United Russia party.
The libel war gained momentum. United Russia legislator Alexey Knyshov was accused of illegal business activity. He had to lay down his mandate of his own accord so as not to force his fellow party members to vote against him.
Earlier this month the Prosecutor-General’s Office asked the State Duma to lift immunity from A Just Russia member Oleg Mikheev and Communist party member Konstantin Shirshov. Mikheyev was charged with seizing real estate of the Volgograd engine plant 500 million rubles worth and attempted theft of 2.1 billion rubles from Promsvyazbank. The former businessman blamed that on commercial disputes. Shirshov is accused of an attempt to sell a State Duma seat for 7.5 million euros.
A week later the Investigative Committee asked the Prosecutor-General’s Office to terminate the parliamentary immunity of United Russia member Vadim Bulavinov. The IC intends to launch criminal proceedings against Bulavinov for abuse allegedly committed when he was the head of Nizhni Novgorod. According to investigators, the former mayor defrauded the city budget of 600,000 million rubles.
If one bears in mind that the position of Nizhni Novgorod’s mayor is held by Bulavinov’s old-time political opponent, Oleg Sorokin, also a member of the United Russia, the whole affair will look very much like a political frame-up.
Experts’ interpretations of the latest developments are varied. Some say that it is a campaign to purge the bodies of power, while others see it as abuse of election rights and settlement of scores with competitors.
The president of the National Strategy Institute, Mikhail Remizov, is quoted by the NEWSru,com as saying the ongoing process is not so much a manifestation of political intrigues as of some political will and political campaign for purging the bodies of power.
“This campaign has a fundamental political dimension, because on the one hand, the authorities’ self-purification ability is seen by society as a factor for trust. On the other hand, it is an important message to the political class, the establishment to change the rules, to establish far harsher rules of responsibility and discipline,” Remizov said.
“The election law is being distorted,” the daily Moskovskiye Novosti quotes the general director of the Political Information Center, Alexei Mukhin, as saying. “The current developments are the sole result of the wicked election system that there exists.”
“The very nature of being a lawmaker has changed,” says political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky. “They were politicians once, but now legislators turn themselves into businessmen, who buy seats in parliament, because they perform no political functions. Once this is so, the legislator’s mandate is a subject matter of business struggle.”
At a certain point rivals develop a grudge against this or that legislator and eventually take his mandate away, the expert said.
The Russian political system is getting into a situation where even people who are absolutely loyal to the authorities with no political ambitions cannot feel safe,” says the electronic daily Gazeta.ru. According to the publication, the Bulavinov affair as a “friendly fire incident.”
MOSCOW, January 31