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MOSCOW, November 10 (RIA Novosti) - The State Duma has adopted in the first reading a bill setting the lower limit of the strength of a political party at 50,000 members.

While 226 votes were needed to endorse the relevant amendments to the Political Parties Law, as many as 360 lawmakers voted for it at the plenary meeting Wednesday; 62 lawmakers voted against the bill, two abstained.

Under the bill, the minimal strength of a party has to be 50,000 members, rather than 10,000 as now. A political party has to run regional offices no less than 500 people strong in more than half of the 89 Russia's constituent regions, and offices no less than 250 people strong in other regions.

The bill stipulates an interim period for all political organizations to comply with these regulations. All organizations that fail to do so will lose the status of a political party and will be either transformed into social associations or liquidated.

Presenting the bill, a co-author, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Social Associations and Religious Organizations Sergei Popov, said the role of political parties in social life would increase greatly as the federal parliament and local legislatures switched to election by proportional vote.

Currently, he said, the parties "do not act as an efficient link between the civil society and the authorities, and lack engagement in social life." The parliamentary election in 2003 proved that was true, the lawmaker went on. According to the official results, he said, only 23 parties of 44 registered by the Justice Ministry took part in the elections, and 13 of them collected on aggregate less than 5% of the cast vote.

"Meanwhile, all these parties used free media coverage allotted [under the election law]," Mr. Popov remarked.

According to the lawmaker, three years of experience of the latest edition of the Political Parties Law show that the law has been inefficient.

"There are no transparent spending procedures for the money parties receive from various sources; political organizations also lack involvement in regional work," he said.