January 31, 2003
AN AUDIT OF THE POLITICAL MARKET
The law on political parties can be a tool to manage elections
Author: Alexander Sadchikov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE JUSTICE MINISTRY HAS BEEN IN CHARGE OF MONITORING POLITICAL PARTIES FOR EIGHTEEN MONTHS. THE EXPERIENCE IT HAS ACCUMULATED SHOWS THAT OVERSIGHT DURING THE REGISTRATION PROCESS IS NOT ENOUGH; OVERSIGHT AFTER REGISTRATION IS ALSO REQUIRED, AND THE ACCOUNTS OF PARTIES SHOULD BE MONITORED MORE CLOSELY.
At yesterday's board meeting at the Justice Ministry, officials of this institution, the presidential administration, and representatives of the Central Electoral Commission conducted something like an audit of Russia's "party economy". It turns out that parties are not financially competent, but at the same time some of them have become elements of commodity-money relations.
The law on parties is eighteen months old. According to Justice Minister Yuri Chaika, "during that time definite experience has been accumulated concerning the registration and monitoring of party activitietice Ministry began to register and monitor parties on July 14, 2001, - the day when the law came into force. Notifications of the intention to set up a party have been accepted from 75 organization committees; 50 parties have been registered; 29 of them have confirmed their right to participate in elections, providing data on their numbers (at least 10,000 members) and regional representation (at least in 45 regions). Twenty parties have been denied registration and only five of them have made up their minds to bring the Justice Ministry to court.
According to the law, parties must participate in elections - otherwise they are shut down in five years. At the same time, it is the Justice Ministry that gives them the "green light" to participate in elections - it transmits the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) the list of those to whom it has no claims. For the entire eighteen months, Yuri Chaika's Justice Ministry has made certain that no one violates party rights.
"The Justice Ministry's policy letters are constructive, as they ensure the uniformity of law applications," reports Yevgeny Sidorenko, deputy minister in charge of party building.
But letters are obviously far from being enough. Sidorenko admitted: there is a need for day-to-day oversight of parties. For example, only close monitoring enabled the ministry to issue a warning for extremist activity to the National-Sovereign Party (there had been no complaints against it at the registration stage). The Justice Ministry hopes that the Federal Security Service (FSB) will join in the monitoring process, especially since a special division has been set up there - a department for countering terrorism and political extremism. This structure can partially be considered the successor in title to the notorious Fifth Directorate that once existed within the KGB and was in charge of "ideological control" of Soviet citizens. On the tide of democratic adjustments it was dismissed as an "institution of political repressions", after which FSB for quite a long while declined the attempts to "impose" on it tracking of extremist organizations too.
Now tracking party spending is a task of the Taxes and Duties Ministry. However, this ministry shows no special zeal along that line. CEC member Elena Dubrovina asked why no financial statements had been made available on the Internet yet.
"Their informal, often hand-written nature makes it difficult," Sidorenko replied. It remains unclear how long voters will remain ignorant of the content of "party coffers".
The topic was unexpectedly developed by a clerk from the presidential administration:
"There is an entire business of creating political parties for blocs and then selling them."
It turned out though that the official was concerned about a different thing. "Two or three parties out of 29 belong to the opposition, while the rest are centrists, in political terms. They will gain 0.5% of the vote each, taking away the votes from the main centrist forces such as United Russia." Hence, a request to the Justice Ministry: tougher checks for those parties whose membership numbers and regional coverage are barely up to required standards - some have 10,043-10,047 members and branches in 45-46 regions. Apparently, as elections draw closer, Justice Ministry officials will follow that recommendation. And thus, the parties which ought to win shall win.
(Translated by P. Pikhnovsky)