United Russia member makes allegations against Zhirinovsky’s party

Duma members and electoral officials have discussed the problem of absentee voting in parliament. First Deputy Duma Speaker Liubov Sliska alleged that the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia charged large sums for places on its electoral list during the Duma campaign of 2003.

A group of Duma members from the United Russia faction met on May 24 with Central Electoral Commission (CEC) Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov. At the meeting, First Deputy Duma Speaker Liubov Sliska alleged that the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) had charged “seven million” for a place among the top five slots on its electoral list during the Duma campaign of 2003. Sliska didn’t specify whether she meant rubles or dollars. This is the first time that a member of one party (United Russia) has publicly accused members of another party (the LDPR) of corruption, within the walls of parliament. According to our sources, the consequences of this scandal will extend beyond legal action.

The topic of the meeting between United Russia members and Veshnyakov wasn’t corruption at all, but the problem of absentee voting in parliament. When the Duma takes a vote, it’s common to see entire rows of seats vacant but for one or two members. When the speaker calls a vote, these legislators run along their allocated row of seats, using the voting-cards of their absent colleagues to cast votes; or they wait until the opposition minority “votes” in the same manner. The situation in many Duma committees is similar: members are absent on vacation or for health reasons, while the head of the committee votes on their behalf. For example, it was reported recently that one habitual absentee legislator – Alexander Nevzorov, member for a single-mandate district in St. Petersburg – has entrusted his vote to Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the constitutional law committee. Many Duma members are only sighted once or twice a month, even by their own staff.

Liubov Sliska stated that she has a list of 93 Duma members who haven’t attended any Duma sessions for the past year. As a rule, she said, these are “very wealthy people who consider that there is no need for them to be present in the Duma.” Sliska claims that Duma members are taking this casual attitude to their duties because some of them simply bought places on electoral lists. The Interfax news agency quotes Sliska as saying that at the elections of 2003, a place among the top five slots on the LDPR electoral list cost “seven million” (currency unspecified). Apparently, she meant dollars or euros. Some political consultants offer the opinion that 7 million rubles would only suffice to buy a place on the list of an “unelectable” party. Places on the lists of parties which are “guaranteed” to win Duma representation are much more expensive: starting at 500,000 euros. Within the Duma, rumor has it that some members paid up to $10 million for their seats (entrepreneurs with links to organized crime, seeking parliamentary immunity from prosecution).

Alexei Mitrofanov, deputy chairman of the LDPR, told us: “I am very surprised at her statement. There must be some sort of misunderstanding, or it’s been misinterpreted by journalists. I don’t believe that such a responsible parliamentary leader would say such things. Who paid for a place on our lists? Igor Lebedev? Most of the candidates on the LDPR lists in 2003 had been with us ever since 1993. Like the Americans who seek ‘the hand of Zhirinovsky’ in deliveries of Iraqi oil, Sliska is seeking it in electoral lists.”

So far, there have been no other comments from the LDPR. It’s worth noting that the LDPR faction, at various times in the past, has given places on its electoral lists to Sergei “Mikhas” Mikhailov and Anatoly “Chelentano” Bykov; then again, the CEC immediately disqualified them.

Realizing that forcing absentee members to attend all plenary sessions and committee meetings is impossible, Duma officials are now working on a fundamental change in procedures. Oleg Kovalev, chairman of the regulations committee, told us that it’s a matter of ensuring that “those with an interest in the topic under discussion” attend sessions. Other members may remain absent until a common voting date (voting on all current bills at once).