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2003--Russia's year of Fed elections: Dec 14 Duma polls
By Tamara Ivanova
January 3, 2002

Russia has entered a year of regular parliamentary elections: State Duma polls are due on December 14.

Although an election campaign proper officially begins early in September, the proximity of the elections makes an imprint on the entire political landscape.

Practically all party organisations have become markedly active. At the end of last year, party congresses were held nearly every Saturday and Sunday, whereas in 2003 ideological life will bubble over with energy still further. Considering that the elections will be held under the provisions of a newly adopted law, parties that have regional branches in more than a half of administrative entities of the Russian Federation will be allowed to participate in the polls. Therefore, the first months of the current year will be characterised by a hectic build-up of regional party ranks.

The new electoral legislation renders a win at the elections in 2003 much more tangible that previously. Parties that will return to the Duma will get not only a parliamentary rostrum but also an annual state financing, the possibility to nominate candidates for election at all levels -- from presidential to regional ones -- without the need to collect signatures or pay an electoral pledge.

Outsiders would not only remain without benefits but would have to pay for free airtime given to them by state-run television and radio networks.

Before the day of Duma polls, a presidential election campaign will commence approximately on December 10, 2003, and will end on March 14, 2004.

As for regional elections, about 14-16 regional chief executives and a similar number of local parliaments are to be elected in 2003.

The year 2004 will see the election of 26 regional governors. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) of the Russian Federation, with a view to saving funds and not annoying the regional constituents with a string of elections, recommended combining local elections with Federal ones.

March 2003 may become a period for the holding of a referendum on a Constitution of the Chechen Republic. An exact date may be determined as early as later this month after signatures in favour of the referendum are checked up.

Naturally, much will depend on the situation taking shape in that republic. But, in the opinion of CEC Chairman Alexander Veshnyakov, even the Government House blast in Grozny -- the blast, the purpose of which was "to intimidate people and frustrate the process of settling the Chechnya problem" -- cannot serve as a weighty ground for cancelling the referendum. He said people's true attitudes would be expressed during the collection of signatures in support of the referendum.

If the referendum is held in March, there will appear a theoretical possibility to hold presidential elections in Chechnya in 2003 and even combine them with the parliamentary polls. There must be not less than six months between a referendum on the Constitution and presidential elections in Chechnya.

The Krasnoyarsk Territorial Court is to consider an application by the CEC about dissolution of the Krasnoyarsk Territory electoral commission that had incompetently declined to recognise the September 22, 2002, gubernatorial elections as valid. The court is to enter the CEC application in the reference before January 5 and examine it within 14 days.

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