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#16 - JRL 7009
Kommersant - Vlast
No. 49
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]

The 2003 parliamentary elections, due to take place on December 14, will be governed by new legislation. The head of the Central Election Commission (CEC), Alexander VESHNYAKOV, has spoken to Commersant - Vlast correspondent Irina NAGORNYKH to highlight the main pitfalls that parties will need to avoid.

Question: How many parties do you estimate will contest the State Duma elections in 2003?

Answer: As early as two years ago, I expected that about 30 political parties would contest the 2003 elections. I don't think there's any need to revise this forecast.

Question: But the Justice Ministry has already registered 46 parties. What about the extra ones?

Answer: Actually, 70 associations have held transformation or constituent congresses. But only those who can get their branches registered in more than half the constituencies of the Russian Federation will be entitled to contest the elections. At the moment, there are just 19 of these.

Question: Thirty is a fairly large number considering that the new law was intended to leave only strong players on the political scene.

Answer: We did not aim to create an artificial two-party system. Perhaps, we may get 30 parties by the time of the election campaign. But among these are debtor parties with outstanding bills for the use of airtime during the previous campaign. These parties will be punished by not being provided with free airtime. I do not rule out the possibility that for that reason some will weigh up their prospects and back out of the election. But even if all 30 run for election, no more than four or five will actually make it into the State Duma. The rest will hardly negotiate the 5 percent eligibility barrier. Under the new rules at this stage in the process, these four or five successful parties will be granted certain privileges, including state financing and the right to put their candidates forward at elections without collecting signatures or deposits. It is these parties that will define the face of the country's political culture in the coming years or perhaps even decades. It should be noted that they will get that right not by virtue of verifications from or registrations at the Justice Ministry, but because the voters have shown their backing for them.

Question: What is going to happen to the rest?

Answer: Failed parties will go bankrupt not just politically, but also financially. They'll be left out in the cold and over time may disappear altogether. Not only will the parties that fail to get 2 percent in the elections not make it into the State Duma, but they will also have to repay the state for the free airtime provided to them by (state broadcaster) VGTRK. That's a lot of money. If the experience of previous campaigns is anything to go by, I would say each of the debtors owes $1 million to ORT alone. For that reason, not only will the new laws show what they're capable of before and during elections, but also after the election day itself. That is, there will be three filters in place: registration at the Justice Ministry, the five-percent eligibility barrier and the consequences of poll results.

Question: But what guarantee is there that the government is not going to abuse the party selection?

Answer: The administrative resources will not need to be used as much, because a number of provisions in the law mandate a real responsibility. For example, all Category A officials must go on holiday if they become candidates. This will seriously target those who previously had the tendency to abuse their official capacity.

Question: But instead the State Duma is going to pass an amendment whereby Category A officials will be entitled to be members of a party.

Answer: Let them pass. Perhaps it will transpire that the party that makes it into the State Duma will have an opportunity to be involved in the formation of the Cabinet. What are we afraid of? If a minister makes political speeches during his office hours, he will be held responsible. In America, for that matter, this practice is not prohibited. The US President made political speeches for his brother in the State of Florida 12 times. Don't make a fetish of administrative resources.

Question: What kind of system is in place to punish an official for abuse of office?

Answer: De-registration. Even involving the entire party list.

Question: In past elections, the toughest thing for a party was collecting signatures in a valid way and filling in declarations of candidates' property, with many actually being disqualified for not doing so correctly. From now on the CEC will not be able to disqualify candidates for misstatements in declarations, while not everyone will have to collect signatures. Where can problems occur?

Answer: Financial malpractice. If the money misused amounts to 5 percent of the money you can legally spend on elections, that is a reason for the court to invalidate your registration. But even if you've run in an election and won, and you are then proven to have won that victory illegally, for instance, by using over 10 percent of your campaign funds illegally, then a court may invalidate your election. This may apply to a whole party or a single candidate. For that reason, parties must treat issues of financial discipline very seriously.

Question: During which time a party or a candidate can be expelled from the State Duma?

Answer: Within a year, in line with the law. But I wouldn't call the new rules Draconian, because the sum total which the parties can spend on elections has increased considerably - from 40 mln roubles to 250 mln roubles.

Question: In 1999, was there a single party you didn't have funding concerns about?

Answer: There were different kinds of concerns, including cases where some formalities were not right. But nowhere was there a reason to go to court to invalidate some party's election results over financial malpractice. Do you remember Boris Berezovsky's protestations that he had broken funding rules and we had supposedly missed that? Beyond these protestations, he did not present any documents, although we did request them from him in public. From my standpoint, the rules at State Duma elections in 2003 will be clearer. They will give a real political force the right to participate in an election campaign and not fear being eliminated as a contender for power. But for that, they'll have to know and respect the law.

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