#6 - JRL 7218
April 2, 2003
UNITED RUSSIA WILL TAKE SOME POWERS FROM THE PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION
Rumors of a party-based government after the next elections
Author: Anatoly Kostiukov
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION PLANS TO AMEND THE LAW ON THE GOVERNMENT. THIS INVOLVES A FUNDAMENTALLY NEW PROCEDURE FOR SELECTING MINISTERS. THE PRESIDENT WILL CONTINUE TO NOMINATE CANDIDATES FOR PRIME MINISTER AND APPOINT CABINET MEMBERS, BUT HE WILL SELECT THE NAMES FROM A LIST COMPILED BY THE "MAJORITY PARTY".
According to sources close to the Kremlin, the presidential administration has prepared an amendment to the law on the government. This involves a fundamentally new procedure for selecting Cabinet ministers: the power to do this will be transferred to the Duma - or rather, to the party or coalition which has the majority in the Duma. Thus, in January 2004 Russia will gain "a government which is accountable to the parliament". In other words, the president will continue to nominate candidates for prime minister and appoint Cabinet members, but he will select the names from a list compiled by the "majority party".
There is indirect evidence of the Kremlin's intentions in the activities of political consultants close to the presidential administration; they have recently been promoting the idea of a party-based government. Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev also spoke of this in a recent interview as an idea whose time has come. The same topic was raised - loudly, even demandingly - at the United Russia congress last Saturday, and that party's leaders are not in the habit of expressing ideas which have not been approved by the Kremlin.
Interestingly enough, an amendment similar to the one prepared by the presidential administration was put to the vote in the Duma a year ago, and failed to pass. That was mainly because it was not supported by United Russia members in the Duma. The failed amendment was proposed by Vladimir Lysenko and Vladimir Ryzhkov. They were very surprised when the pro-presidential factions voted against the amendment; surely the United Russia members who make up the Duma majority ought to vote for a party-based government. Vladimir Lysenko says: "In private conversations, they said they were entirely on our side. But evidently the Kremlin advised them against voting in favor of the amendment."
But attitudes have changed as elections approach and United Russia matures in organizational terms. The initiative rejected a year ago has been rehabilitated, and is expected to be submitted to the Duma by different authors. According to our sources, the procedure for approving the "old-new" amendment involves two phases. The present Duma is only entrusted with passing it in the first reading. After that, everything will depend on the outcome of the December elections. If United Russia secures the coveted Duma majority, the second and third readings can take place on the same day. If United Russia does not get a majority, the authors will immediately withdraw the amendment, as they have a right to do.
Of course, there is also the theory that the amendment will not be permitted a second reading in any case. The issue here, as Vladimir Lysenko told us, is that the presidential administration fundamentally dislikes the idea of a party-based government. After all, if ministers are nominated and confirmed by the Duma majority, the Cabinet will be far less dependent on the administration. And the president would lose his undivided power over the Cabinet. At the same time, there would be more claims to political power from the "majority party". Even if that party is United Russia, it would still be dangerous to give it too much freedom. Lysenko is not convinced that the presidential administration is ready for such an act of self-sacrifice, one which might lead to the collapse of the "super-presidency" system of governance.
(Translated by Gregory Malutin)