The political establishment avidly discusses the president’s forthcoming Message to the Federal Assembly.

Encouraged by the president to take part in the work on the political part of his annual Message to the Federal Assembly, the establishment and the opposition came up with some radical ideas. The opposition suggested publication of the lists of voting and non-voting Russians on local electoral commissions’ web sites. United Russia came up with the proposal to stiffen liability for falsifications. Both suggestions were turned down upon consideration.

Still, some of the ideas the opposition had come up with were incorporated into the Message. According to a source close to the Presidential Administration, Dmitry Medvedev might suggest restoration of order with early voting and voting by vouchers. Circles close to Fair Russia leadership sneered on hearing it. The matter concerned the techniques broadly used or rather abused by United Russia and electoral commissions, they said. As a matter of fact, it had been Fair Russia’s idea in the first place to ask the president to ban this voting techniques.

Insiders who usually know what they are talking about say that the president might recommend application of the changes introduced last year to elections on regional and municipal levels as well (equal access to TV networks, seats on regional legislatures for representatives of the parties that failed to scale the 7% barrier, abolition of signature collecting for political parties with factions in regional parliaments). Senior Assistant Director of the Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov mentioned all these matters at the meeting with the Public House.

Age of compulsory retirement for governors (65 or 70 years) was discussed in all earnest in the course of composition of the Message. Sources in the Presidential Administration said that the Kremlin was experiencing problems with removal of political heavyweights from their positions – men like Yuri Luzhkov, Murtaza Rakhimov, or Mintimer Shaimiyev. Indeed, the Kremlin had to sweat to remove Eduard Rossel even though his successor Alexander Misharin enjoyed support from Deputy Premier Sergei Sobyanin, United Russia, and Surkov himself (each being an extremely powerful lobbyist). The idea to set the age of compulsory retirement for governors was eventually scrapped. All the same, Rossel’s resignation was a signal to regional leaders. “Trust the president to say in the Message that staff changes in the gubernatorial corps will continue,” a high-ranking official said.

Sources close to the president himself did not expect him to bring up the matter of capital punishment since it was currently considered by the Constitutional Court. One of them allowed, however, that Medvedev might mention it in the international part of the Message which it seemed was going to be lengthier than in the previous Message.

Brains of the presidential Commission for Modernization were tapped in the work on the economic part of the Message. Established in May, the Commission for Modernization convened five meetings. Some of the ideas it suggested were endorsed by the Kremlin and the government without being ever conveyed to the general public.

The president was bound to bring up the subjects of state corporations and cost efficiency, an insider said.

“Businesses expect tax remissions that will stimulate innovative and modernization activities,” said Alexander Shokhin of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Sources close to the Commission for Modernization said that the panel itself and its Chair Surkov backed the idea of tax remissions but the Finance Ministry was objecting. “The term “modernization” is too vague. Tax remissions on so vague a basis will result in a situation where too many will aspire to them. A good deal of these businesses will have to be denied tax remissions so that there will be hard feelings and lawsuits against the Finance Ministry,” a source said.

(United Russia functionary said that whatever changes in taxation might be suggested, their announcement would be left to Vladimir Putin speaking at the ruling party convention on November 21.)

Establishment of a special body within the government to facilitate development of small businesses was discussed, according to a Duma deputy from the United Russia faction. Neither the Kremlin nor the government seemed to object.

Dmitry Badovsky of the Public House suggested that the Message this year was going to be a message to the government rather than to lawmakers. Modernization was the objective. Everything depended now on the president’s ability to provide a Road Map action plan for state officials to follow and to mobilize them, Badovsky said.

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