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Russians critical of parliament’s performance

November 27, 2013, 15:19 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
© ITAR-TASS/Mikhail Metsel

MOSCOW, November 27. /ITAR-TASS/. The effectiveness of the State Duma — the lower house of the Russian parliament — has unexpectedly come into the focus of mass media and society’s attention. There are several reasons for that. Russian President Vladimir Putin last September raised the legislators’ salaries. In the meantime, many lawmakers are often absent from parliament sessions as lazy school kids from classes. In addition, quite often they pass legal acts that have nothing to do with the people’s basic needs. Naturally, the average person is very critical of the reputation of the State Duma as such and of the legislative activities of its members, as follows from Levada Centre opinion poll.

Asked if Russia really needs the State Duma, or whether the country’s day-to-day life can be arranged in accordance with presidential decrees alone, 43% of the respondents said that presidential decrees would be quite enough, while 39% replied that the State Duma was a necessary institution, and 18% offered no answer.

Almost half of the polled — 49% — have no idea of the political goals or preferences of the people’s deputies. A tiny 5% of the respondents know something about the specific results of the legislators’ activity over the past two years. As many as 51% of the polled have a very vague idea of State Duma activities, 40% know nothing about it, and another 5% offered no comment.

More than a third (36%) of the respondents are rather negative in their comments on the lawmakers activity, 20% are unequivocally critical, and 29% remained uncertain. Only two percent offered wholesale support for the State Duma’s activity, and 14% tend to describe it as rather positive.

Sociologists do not clear up the reasons why the people are so critical of those whom they elected to represent their interests in parliament. Legislators themselves have tried to offer an answer to the daily Izvestia.

“The explanation for the Levada Centre statistics is very simple. The people never like the authorities, just as nobody likes the dentist, because everybody thinks from the outset that it will hurt,” says State Duma Deputy speaker Igor Lebedev.

State Duma member from the United Russia party, Alexander Khinshtein, believes that the reasons for the negative comments stem from the “general slump in the people’s trust towards the authorities as such, some very unpopular steps the State Duma took lately, as well as the legislators’ undeclared properties and latent involvement in business.”

Some legislators believe that the people are so angry about the State Duma because the law-makers salaries have soared.

As follows from last September’s presidential decree, the salaries of State Duma and Federation Council members this year will go up to 250,000 rubles, and as of September 1 2014, to 420,000 rubles. In other words, it will become 14 times the national average. According to the federal statistics agency, Rosstat, Russia’s monthly wage last August averaged 30,000 rubles (slightly less than one thousand dollars).

Duma member Dmitry Gudkov says “the electorate will not approve of the pay rises; besides 60% of the lawmakers might agree to get no salary at all, because they have their own private businesses to live on.

At the beginning of 2012 in the State Duma there were more than 20 legislators with annual incomes of over 100 million rubles.

Against this background very unfavorable for State Duma members, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, has cracked down on his fellow legislators with harsh criticism. He accused them of massive absenteeism and suggested amendments to the law on the status of State Duma members in order to make it possible to strip lazy legislators of their mandates. Zhirinovsky said absentees harmed the prestige of their parties and of the authorities as such. The rotation of legislators, he argues, will be an excellent way of improving democracy.

Incidentally, Zhirinovsky said nothing new. Millions of TV news viewers in Russia can see for themselves the State Duma’s hall is half-empty. In addition, they can see the few legislators present rush about the aisles and the rows of seats pushing voting buttons for their absent colleagues. Of the 450 lower house members hardly a half attend parliament sessions regularly.

Both the State Duma and the Federation Council have been trying to enhance discipline and improve attendance. FC speaker Valentina Matvienko has come up with an idea of considering the possibility of fining FC members for being absent from sessions for no good reason. However, the legislators are unlikely to vote for a proposal for punishing themselves.

True, this is not the main reason for the people’s critical attitude to parliament.

“The previous State Duma was no place for debate, the way its former speaker once put it. In the meantime, in the current State Duma the ordinary voter hears no meaningful discussions of issues that really trouble each citizen of the country - of everyday life issues. The people are concerned over small pensions, soaring housing and utility prices, and ecological problems. Instead, the legislators prefer to adopt a special legal act to outlaw LGBT propaganda,” the deputy chief of the Centre for Political Technologies, Boris Makarenko, has told ITAR-TASS in an interview.

The expert believes that the people’s anger over the performance of the State Duma stems from the legislators’ alienation from society.

“The proportional system of elections to the lower house of parliament has created a situation in which the legislator depends on the party, and not on the electorate. If the lawmakers were more active in their constituencies, if they were more active in reflecting the interest of the country’s people in the laws they pass, then the people’s attitude to parliament would be quite different,” he said.

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