BENT ON REFORM

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DMITRY MEDVEDEV EXTENDS THE POLITICAL REFORMS TO RUSSIAN REGIONS

The Presidential Administration converted some of the theses of the Message to the Federal Assembly into two draft laws.


What information this newspaper has compiled indicates that political initiatives President Dmitry Medvedev suggested in his second message to the Federal Assembly will be forwarded to the Duma in the form of draft laws before the end of the year. The president said that he wanted them implemented by April 2010, and the Kremlin is clearly in a hurry. It knows that Federation subjects need time to adjust their legislations accordingly. Medvedev’s reforms are to be converted into four draft laws that will stipulate amendment of the acting legislation. Two draft laws are ready now, insiders say.

Addressing the Federal Assembly earlier this year, Medvedev suggested extension of the political reforms to Russian regions. He enumerated ten steps which he was convinced would make political struggle fair. The president came up with the idea to define criteria of regional legislatures’ numerical strength. He said as well that he thought it necessary to permit all political parties represented in regional parliaments to form factions and guarantee their representatives the right to occupy commanding heights within the legislature.

Medvedev also suggested representation in regional legislatures of the political parties that polled 5% and more. Another idea concerned obviation of the necessity for political parties with factions in regional legislatures but not in the federal Duma to collect signatures prior to elections. Along with everything else, the president demanded restoration of order with early voting at regional and local levels.

Medvedev said that he wanted it all done by April 1, 2010. These initiatives ought to be adopted by both houses of the Federal Assembly and incorporated into regional legislations by then.

Information available to this newspaper in the meantime indicates that the Presidential Administration is determined to carry out the orders well in advance of the deadline. Insiders who know what they are talking about say that all necessary draft laws might be forwarded to the Duma before the end of the year. All initiatives will be compressed into four draft laws. (It is fair to add that the ten political reforms Medvedev suggested in his first Message made for nine draft laws.)

There is another nuance worth mentioning. Before getting down to legislative initiatives this time, the Kremlin chose to discuss the matter with political parties. The Presidential Administration set up a permanent working group for electoral legislation betterment (it includes representatives of all seven political parties). The group met twice to consider numerical strength criteria for regional legislatures and electoral barrier for the political parties that polled 5% in local campaigns.

Draft law on size of regional parliaments is ready. Officially registered political parties listened to, the Presidential Administration is about to complete work on the document. The impression is that it will be the first one to be forwarded to the Duma.

The other draft law will concern electoral legislation pertaining barriers for political parties and the necessity of collection of signatures. Sources claim that the law will be deliberately vague on the subject of the electoral barrier. In other words, the Federation subjects where the barrier is set at 7% will be permitted to retain it (as opposed to bringing it down to 5%) on the condition that a seat or two on the regional legislature will be reserved for the political parties that polled between 5% and 7%.

Another draft law will set the rules of early voting in elections of regional legislatures and local self-government structures.

The fourth draft law will permit all political parties elected into regional parliaments to form factions and occupy commanding heights. It seems that the idea is to let even an individual lawmaker perform functions of a bona fide faction.

By and large, there is nothing to prevent regional legislatures from amending local laws in accordance with what the fourth draft law prepared by the Presidential Administration will suggest. The problem is, United Russia functionaries in regional parliaments where they have a majority (i.e. everywhere) will fight tooth and claw to prevent commanding heights from falling into the hands of other political parties. They will never part with control of their own volition. Alexander Makarevich of Fair Russia, leader of the second largest faction of the Murmansk regional parliament, has been unable to persuade United Russia that he is entitled to the status of a parliament deputy chairman since 2007 (!).

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