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Anti-corruption measures in Russia may force many legislators to leave their seats

October 27, 2015, 19:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© Alexander Kolbasov/TASS Archive

MOSCOW, October 27. /TASS/. Russian President Vladimir Putin-initiated campaign that some instantly dubbed "nationalization of the elites" is gaining momentum. In the near future anti-corruption measures will encompass legislators of all levels. The public at large believes that corruption in the bodies of state power has eased, while most experts have welcomed greater transparency in relation to civil servants and legislators.

The State Duma last Wednesday approved in the second reading the ruling party United Russia’s bill tightening anti-corruption rules that the elected officials of all levels, from federal to municipal, will be obliged to abide by. They will now be liable to the operation of the ban on having bank foreign bank accounts and securities. The bill’s final approval is due on Friday. According to the daily Izvestia, about 1,000 legislators from various parties are faced with the risk of saying good-bye to their seats when the new anti-corruption measures come into force.

The bill’s brain-fathers hope that after the bill is signed into law the nationalization of the elites will encompass all tiers of government. The main thrust of the future legal act, they believe, is to issue "a moral message to the federal, regional and local elites and society about the rules of political conduct to be followed, the impermissibility of mixing business and politics, the duty of all those taking official posts to protect the country’s interests, and the impermissibility of dependence on the so-called offshore democracy and other countries that influence decisions made in the territory of Russia.

The first deputy chief of the presidential staff, Vyacheslav Volodin, told a conference that brought together the heads of United Russia factions in the regional legislative assemblies that in the past the rule of filing income and property declarations implied no responsibility. As a result most legislators just ignored it. Now the responsibility will be imminent and those legislators who fail to file declarations will lose their mandates. Volodin said that United Russia was responsible for compliance with anti-corruption legislation to a greater extent than any other, because 62.3% of lawmakers across the nation were from the ruling party and keeping the party’s ranks clean should be number one priority for its members.

In the meantime, as a poll by the national public opinion studies center WCIOM has found, the public at large believes the degree of corruption in the bodies of state power and local self-government has shown a noticeable decline. Whereas in March 2015 34% of the questioned said that local authorities were corruption-riddled, in October the group of such respondents shrank to 17%. The same trend is observed in relation to the federal authorities’ scale of corruption: the rates were down from 17% to 9%.

Most pundits have welcomed the new bill by and large, although some of its provisions do raise many eyebrows.

"On the one hand, the lawmakers are obliged to declare their property and divest of assets and real estate abroad for the period they take elective posts," assistant professor Yekaterina Schulmann, of the public administration department of the presidential academy RANEPA, has told TASS. "This rule as such does make sense, for it increases the transparency of representative bodies of power, which must be directly dependent on the opinion of voters."

But the risk of losing one’s seat for defaulting on this duty is something very different, she believes. "This heralds progress towards what is sometimes called imperative mandate. It is a legal system where an elected legislator of any level can be stripped of one’s powers at the decision of one’s own faction, party or any other body of power, which runs counter to one of the principles of parliamentarianism - the principle of popular representation. A deputy should be accountable only to the electorate. Throughout one’s term of office the legislator enjoys all sorts of immunity. This makes elected deputies independent of superiors or executive or investigative authorities. If this or that person refuses to declare one’s property or declares possession of a luxurious castle, the chances of being elected next time are very slim." But for the period of performing one’s duties a legislator must enjoy a free hand," Schulmann believes.

Assistant professor Igor Zagarin, of the RANEPA academy, argues that the imperative mandate is "something slightly different." "It implies that a legislator will vote in parliament the way the whole faction will. Otherwise, such a politician may be ‘suspended’. The legislators must be transparent to the population. This will prevent administrative resource manipulations," he told TASS.

Zagarin is certain that the campaign for the "nationalization of the elites" is moving in the right direction.

"To keep the state stable the elites must be oriented towards internal Russian processes first and foremost. This will now apply not only to federal level legislators, but those of the municipal level, too. What makes it still more important is a certain message is issued with a view to the 2016 parliamentary elections. United Russia members are among those who should turn an attentive ear to it," he believes.

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