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#5 - JRL 7264
Russian Justice Ministry's Zhafyarov on Party Registration Statistics
Vremya MN
18 July 2003
Interview with Aleksey Gayarovich Zhafyarov, deputy chief of Department of Public and Religions Associations, Ministry of Justice, by Anastasiya Kornya; place and date not given:
"They Will Check the Information in Summer, and Tally the Results in Fall"

The transition period, specified by law for the conversion of public political associations into political parties, has ended. It is still too early to sum up the results, however, suggested Aleksey Zhafyarov, deputy head of the Ministry of Justice Department of Public and Religious Associations. The final alignment of forces on the campaign battlefield will be apparent after the date of the election has been set--when the Ministry of Justice submits its list of the associations eligible to participate in the election to the Central Electoral Commission. None of them will be insured against unexpected developments until that time.

(Kornya) Aleksey Gayarovich, what is our "tentative balance" today?

(Zhafyarov) We have registered 50 political parties, and 43 have confirmed the registration of their regional branches. In other words, they are fully-fledged parties.

Actually, we have registered 56 parties in all since the law went into force, but we deleted 5 from the register. We denied the registration applications of 38 associations, but 13 reapplied and were registered. Six challenged our decision in court, but none of them won. We are particularly proud of this. Some have refused on principle to correct the infractions resulting in our denial of their applications. Most of these requests were denied because of the names of the parties, which suggested that the organizations wanted to protect either religious or ethnic interests, which is prohibited by law.

(Kornya) Do you have any reason to believe that the alignment of forces on the campaign front will change before September?

(Zhafyarov) Certainly. Seven parties are still solving organizational problems. The deadline for confirming registration will be up in September for some of them, but not for all of them. Nevertheless, they cannot be on the list until they have submitted proof of their regional branches.

(Kornya) The public associations that did not reregister still could participate in elections, but not until 2004....

(Zhafyarov) As of 14 July, we had 160 active public political associations. As far as I know, only one of them is being disbanded. In fact, 33 of them still have the word "party" in their names, but they will have to change their names before 1 September.

Not all of those 160 associations will be automatically included on the list, however. According to the basic requirements of the law, election blocs can be formed by public organizations and public movements established at least a year before election day and making the appropriate provisions in their charters. There are also some other restrictions: Associations established along ethnic, professional, and religious lines, for example, will not be eligible to participate in elections. In addition, amendments to the law on elections of State Duma deputies just recently "disqualified" associations accepting foreign citizens and foreign or international organizations as members, groups accepting individuals ineligible to join political parties (organizations accepting members as young as 14 or 15, for example) as members, and organizations of fans of various pursuits....

(Kornya) Does this mean, in other words, that the Union of Motorists no longer can belong to the bloc established by the Republican Party?

(Zhafyarov) I cannot tell you anything about specific organizations and their ability to join blocs. The list is being compiled now. According to our calculations, the names of 50-100 organizations will be on the list. I cannot give you a more precise estimate, because the consultations with the Central Electoral Commission are not over yet.

(Kornya) One of the Justice Ministry's functions is the "line audit." In other words, it verifies the activity of the parties and, what is most crucial, the membership figures they report. Can the results serve as grounds for disbanding a party or its regional branches?

(Zhafyarov) These inspections have revealed that, unless a party is completely defunct, the absence of the required minimum number of members usually does not lead to the liquidation of the party. After we petition the court, every effort is made to augment membership figures, and the minimum requirement is satisfied by the time of the hearing.

We have also verified the observance of procedural requirements for the establishment of parties, checking compliance with legal standards. When a party applies for registration, we have so little time to make our decision that we cannot conduct a complete and all-encompassing examination. We essentially have to base our decisions on the documents submitted to us. We have some positive judicial experience in this area. The regional branch of the Social Democratic Party in the Chuvash Republic was disbanded in response to a complaint filed by the republic administration of the Ministry of Justice following a post-registration examination of the party. A branch of the National Patriotic Forces of the Russian Federation was disbanded in response to a complaint filed by the Main Administration for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast.

(Kornya) Will you have time to check all of the parties before the election?

(Zhafyarov) We have not even set this objective: This is a lengthy and continuous process, and the results do not have to be linked with this election. It is possible, of course, that some results will lead to some changes before September. We have checked 20 parties, in order of their registration. According to the schedule, we have to check another nine parties by September, but I cannot say we definitely will. Each examination can take from one month to three. We gather information from all of the regions. Now imagine this situation, which is quite likely to happen: The administrator left on vacation, the documents are locked up in his safe, and no one else knows the combination. We might have to wait a month until he returns. We have been completely unable to find some of the regional branches. There is nothing at the address listed in the articles of incorporation as the location of the branch headquarters. By law, we are supposed to be notified of a change of address within three days. In other words, this alone constitutes grounds for administrative penalties, but these proceedings take a long time. If a party has 50-60 branches and there is a delay in reviewing the records of just one of these branches, the entire verification procedure comes to a halt. A warning is issued to the "recalcitrant" branch, of course.

(Kornya) What methods do you use to verify the information? Do you actually go to those addresses?

(Zhafyarov) We can ask any official agency for assistance--the tax service or internal affairs agencies. They usually do not refuse our requests. Obviously, sending out indiscriminate requests to check everyone and everything would be pointless, but we can see many things even when we are still analyzing the submitted documents: We can see, for example, if all of the signatures are in the same handwriting....

(Kornya) Have you found any "dead souls"?

(Zhafyarov) There was even a party member born in 1812..., but this was a typographical error, of course. There were dead souls and there were people living at fictitious addresses. I cannot name the party that was particularly guilty of this.

(Kornya) If that party were to win seats in the new Duma, would you have the right to revoke its registration and invalidate the election results?

(Zhafyarov) If it did not have the necessary number of members? No, we could not do that, because the party would have already confirmed its active status, and people would have already voted for it. The law reserves our right to examine the documents submitted by parties, and we are not bound by any time limits. The penalties for any violations we discover can be suspended for a long time and cannot be overruled.

(Kornya) Are our parties guilty of financial infractions?

(Zhafyarov) We do not have that information yet. Financial oversight is not the job of the Ministry of Justice anyway. It is the job of tax agencies. We can take legal measures when we discover these infractions, of course (we can issue warnings and file complaints, and we can even go to court to demand the suspension of party activity or the dissolution of the party). We are not empowered to establish these facts, however, so someone has to give us this information.

(Kornya) How effective is the oversight of party economic and financial operations? Everyone knows, after all, that the coordination of oversight agencies leaves much to be desired: None of them is in any hurry to share its information....

(Zhafyarov) Agreeing with this would be unfair to our partners. We recently hosted a fairly large conference with representatives from virtually all of the agencies coming into contact with political parties during the performance of their duties. It resulted in some ideas about more efficient interaction. We have already identified the structural subdivisions of these agencies responsible for this kind of work--the counterparts of our department. I think we eventually will be able to take care of these matters quickly and efficiently.

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