The Duma is sabotaging presidential initiatives.

Not a single draft law from Dmitry Medvedev’s so called "democratic list" made the Duma in the three weeks after the presidential message to the Federal Assembly. Parliamentarians themselves claim that the rapidly evolving economic crisis interfered with Medvedev’s liberal plans and pushed political modernization into the background.

Addressing the Federal Assembly on November 5, Medvedev suggested reorganization of the Federation Council and boosting of the role political parties play in governance. Also importantly, the president was speaking of small political parties too, as addressees of his liberal legislative initiatives. Along with everything else, Medvedev suggested strengthening of federalism and betterment of transparency and accountability of the judiciary.

“It’s time we finally adopted the law “On availability of information concerning activity of courts in the Russian Federation”, I think,” Medvedev said. His exasperation was absolutely understandable. The Supreme Court drew the legislation and forwarded it to the Duma in summer 2006. The Duma adopted it in the first reading only. Moreover, it became known that discussion of the draft law in the second reading had been scheduled for November 12. It never took place because the Duma Council chose to postpone it at the last possible moment. In fact, the Duma Council did not even set the date of the discussion and thus openly defied the president’s order.

There is one other presidential initiative the Duma is in no hurry to tackle. Medvedev said he intended to instruct municipal legislatures to stiffen control over the local executive power structures (he even purported that the former should be given the power to dismiss underperforming mayors). The head of state added that measures were being taken already to strengthen positions of municipal legislatures.

The matter concerns the draft law on local elections where at least 50% seats on municipal legislatures are supposed to go to candidates nominated by political parties. The Duma discussed it already and adopted in the first reading… and that is that. December schedule of the lower house of the parliament does not include the second reading of the document in question.

Theses of Medvedev’s message are quite specific so that their conversion into draft laws would have been easy. How come they are ignored? Oleg Kulikov, Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPRF, suggested that the powers-that-be have a different set of priorities now. The economic crisis turned out to be worse than anticipated and broke out when nobody expected it yet. Gennadi Gudkov of the Fair Russia faction also suggested that Medvedev’s initiatives were gauged as less imperative than economic upheavals awaiting the country.

Only one functionary of the ruling United Russia party agreed to talk of the presidential message and its implementation. He said that the crisis under way had nothing to do with how the Medvedev’s initiatives were treated. “Political draft laws and anti-crisis measures are handled by two absolutely different teams,” he said. This correspondent asked what the matter was then and the United Russia functionary suggested that experts working on political draft laws probably needed more time. He refused to elaborate on the delay.

Victor Ilyukhin of the CPRF faction of the Duma was less tight-lipped. The situation merely confirmed his suspicions, he said, that “the president’s and premier’s teams apparently disagree over priorities.”

Sociologists in the meantime say that the population sympathizes with Medvedev’s ideas to reform the political system and develop civil society. The All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM) discovered that 72% respondents support the idea of expansion of the Duma’s control functions and the Cabinet’s annual reports to the lower house of the parliament.

Sixty-eight percent supported the necessity of guarantees of media coverage of the political parties functioning in the Duma. Somewhat fewer respondents (62%) backed the idea of granting municipal legislatures the power to relieve mayors of their duties.

Nearly every second respondent (48%) told VTsIOM sociologists that he or she likes the idea of securing a seat or two on the Duma for the political parties that polled 5-7% in the parliamentary campaign. As many Russians hailed the idea of regular rotation in the upper echelons of political parties.

According to the VTsIOM, the Russians are less supportive of the ideas to bring down the number of signatures political parties have to collect before running for the Duma (30% spoke against it), have governors nominated only by the party that came in first in the regional election (29%), and reduce the minimum personnel requirements for would-be parties aspiring to official registration (28% objected).