#9 - JRL 7239
No. 23 (378)
June 23, 2003
ELIMINATING THE COMPETITION
Public organizations are being excluded from elections: who benefits?
Author: Dr. Alexander Ivanchenko, chairman of the board at the
Independent Electoral Institute
[from WPS Monitoring Agency, www.wps.ru/e_index.html]
THE FEDERAL LAWS ON BASIC GUARANTEES OF ELECTORAL RIGHTS, ON DUMA ELECTIONS, AND ON POLITICAL PARTIES ARE DUE TO BE CHANGED. BY BARRING PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS FROM PARTICIPATION IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, THE CURRENT DUMA MAJORITY IS MAKING CONDITIONS AS FAVORABLE AS POSSIBLE FOR ITSELF.
In early June, the Duma passed a package of amendments barring public organizations from participation in parliamentary elections. Thus, the federal laws on basic guarantees of electoral rights, on Duma elections, and on political parties are due to be changed.
According to the law on parties as it stands, political parties may participate in elections either independently or as part of electoral blocs; such blocs may be comprised of no more than three entities. In setting such a strict limit on the number of entities per bloc, the parliament was attempting to make it as difficult as possible for strong political alliances to take part in elections, including alliances made up of public organizations. The intention was that a bloc would include one or two political parties and, correspondingly, two or one public organizations. When passed, the law allowed a two-year transition period (to July 14, 2003) for parties and public organizations to complete all the necessary organizational and legal measures to prepare themselves for the next elections. Those who planned this law intended for the number of political parties at the federal level to be sharply reduced (regional parties were banned altogether); at the time, public political organizations were not considered to be serious competitors at all.
However, as these plans were implemented, it became clear that they would require substantial corrections. The number of political parties which have gone through all the formal registration procedures and are now ready to take part in the elections had reached 41 by May this year, and there is every reason to believe that it could go over 50. And there could be just as many public organizations. Most importantly, there has been a significant change of emphasis in the political preferences of voters. Opinion polls indicate that the performance of political parties currently in parliament - openly opportunistic as they are - is leading to more and more disillusionment among voters. Against this backdrop, there has been a rise in support for non-political public organizations, which have not sullied themselves by making deals with the regime or the oligarchs.
Therefore, the new initiatives from the centrist factions have the sole purpose of weakening their potential rivals - not synchronizing party and electoral legislation or developing Russia's political system as a whole. After all, Russia has long had electoral laws which are very favorable for political parties: participation in elections is barred to labor unions, religious groups and charities, organizations based on national, ethnic, racial or religious criteria, and international organizations.
But from now on, national public organizations will not be able to take part in Duma elections at all. Although this radical ban will only take effect from January 1, 2004, a close reading of the amendments leads to the conclusion that the largest public organizations are effectively already barred from the elections. This primarily concerns organizations formed to express professional, academic, and hobby interests. Thus, public organizations of academics, farmers, environmentalists, auto enthusiasts, and so on will have to revise their plans for taking part in elections.
Formally excluding public organizations from elections is no more than a campaign tactic by the centrist factions. After all, such a ban can be easily bypassed - since party electoral lists can include citizens who are not members of any party, as well as citizens who are members of public organizations or movements. This makes it obvious that the centrist factions are trying to boost the purely commercial appeal of their electoral lists - and subordinate public organizations at the same time. Yet this goal is likely to prove unattainable for United Russia, the latest version of a ruling party.
We can expect to see a series of courtroom battles as the ban on public organizations taking part in elections comes into effect. After all, these amendments leave many questions unanswered - relating to the electoral prospects of public political unions which have not transformed themselves into parties, thus losing their political status. For example, their charters retain some wording used in the past - about "participation in politics by means of influencing the formation of the political will of the citizenry", as well as other points applicable to political unions which were annulled in March last year when the law on public organizations was amended; these could be used as formal pretexts to prevent such organizations from joining electoral blocs. Obviously, organizations which did not get re-registered as legal entities by January 1, 2003 will not be permitted to participate in elections either. All this creates unprecedentedly favorable conditions for parties already in the Duma, especially the centrists, to maintain and consolidate their positions.
(Translated by Gregory Malutin)