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Duma moves to dismantle managed democracy
Business New Europe - bne.com - 2.29.12 - JRL 2012-36

Russia's state Duma passed a political reform package February 29 that if made into law will dismantle key features of 'managed democracy' — tight restrictions on parties and presidential appointment of regional governors. Duma BuildingOutgoing president Dmitry Medvedev may have left the best to last. With a mind to his legacy, the man whom many see as a spineless patsy of prime minister and now presidential candidate Vladimir Putin has apparently come good on his word to reintroduce democracy to Russia, given during his final state-of-the-nation address December 22. In his address Medvedev called for a return to direct elections of regional governors and lower thresholds for setting up political parties - striking a blow at two pillars of the 'managed democracy' established by Vladimir Putin during his first innings as president 2000-2008.

Both proposals look now to be on the fast track into law, meaning that Putin 2.0 will find himself faced with a rapidly changing political landscape.

The reform package voted through by parliament at the first reading February 29 contained both Medvedev's proposals in their full extent: a return to direct elections of the heads of regional subjects - i.e. to full-blown federalism, and making it far easier to establish parties, with the number of members required for party registration dropped to a mere 500 from the current 50,000. The measures effectively reverse changes made to Russia's political system in 2004 that, together with media control, led to the establishment of full-blown managed democracy; one reform proposed by Medvedev and passed into law November 2011 already lowered the threshold for entry to parliament from 7% of the vote to the European standard of 5%.

Remarkably, all parliamentary factions voted in favour of the proposals at the first reading February 28, despite the fact that the reforms will undermine their strangehold on political power. Apart from the four parliamentary parties also participating in the four-hour long Duma debate were three influential representatives of the extra-parliamentary opposition - former independent liberal MP Vladimir Ryzhkov, left wing activitst Sergei Udaltsov, and head of the liberal Yabloko party Sergei Mitrokhin.

A number of issues are outstanding going into the committee stage and could still allow for watering down of the draft bills: most importantly this includes details of a possible presidential filter, i.e. some form of presidential approval of candidates standing for election as regional leaders, which Putin has said is necessary to prevent separatists or criminals coming to power; and also grounds and procedures for the President to fire regional leaders. This is the most likely area where Putin as incoming president will see his power to directly run the country significantly reduced if the proposals go through in their current form.

Other outstanding issues include permission to create election blocks, important for small parties to achieve political clout and revision upwards of the registration threshold to prevent the creation of mini-parties.

With the reform bills apparently fast-tracked through parliament for adoption in the spring, they could start influencing regional politics as early as this autumns election cycle, with a major regional elections date in mid-October.

A second legislative package in the pipeline envisages amending the procedures for the State Duma elections in a way that would in the future prevent one single party achieving the sort of domination currently enjoyed by pro-Putin party United Russia. "The fate of that legislation is crucial, as it will have a significant influence on the evolution of Russia's political field during the next political cycle," write VTB analysts.

Keywords: Russia, Politics - Russia News - Russia

 

Russia's state Duma passed a political reform package February 29 that if made into law will dismantle key features of 'managed democracy' — tight restrictions on parties and presidential appointment of regional governors.

Duma BuildingOutgoing president Dmitry Medvedev may have left the best to last. With a mind to his legacy, the man whom many see as a spineless patsy of prime minister and now presidential candidate Vladimir Putin has apparently come good on his word to reintroduce democracy to Russia, given during his final state-of-the-nation address December 22. In his address Medvedev called for a return to direct elections of regional governors and lower thresholds for setting up political parties - striking a blow at two pillars of the 'managed democracy' established by Vladimir Putin during his first innings as president 2000-2008.

Both proposals look now to be on the fast track into law, meaning that Putin 2.0 will find himself faced with a rapidly changing political landscape.

The reform package voted through by parliament at the first reading February 29 contained both Medvedev's proposals in their full extent: a return to direct elections of the heads of regional subjects - i.e. to full-blown federalism, and making it far easier to establish parties, with the number of members required for party registration dropped to a mere 500 from the current 50,000. The measures effectively reverse changes made to Russia's political system in 2004 that, together with media control, led to the establishment of full-blown managed democracy; one reform proposed by Medvedev and passed into law November 2011 already lowered the threshold for entry to parliament from 7% of the vote to the European standard of 5%.

Remarkably, all parliamentary factions voted in favour of the proposals at the first reading February 28, despite the fact that the reforms will undermine their strangehold on political power. Apart from the four parliamentary parties also participating in the four-hour long Duma debate were three influential representatives of the extra-parliamentary opposition - former independent liberal MP Vladimir Ryzhkov, left wing activitst Sergei Udaltsov, and head of the liberal Yabloko party Sergei Mitrokhin.

A number of issues are outstanding going into the committee stage and could still allow for watering down of the draft bills: most importantly this includes details of a possible presidential filter, i.e. some form of presidential approval of candidates standing for election as regional leaders, which Putin has said is necessary to prevent separatists or criminals coming to power; and also grounds and procedures for the President to fire regional leaders. This is the most likely area where Putin as incoming president will see his power to directly run the country significantly reduced if the proposals go through in their current form.

Other outstanding issues include permission to create election blocks, important for small parties to achieve political clout and revision upwards of the registration threshold to prevent the creation of mini-parties.

With the reform bills apparently fast-tracked through parliament for adoption in the spring, they could start influencing regional politics as early as this autumns election cycle, with a major regional elections date in mid-October.

A second legislative package in the pipeline envisages amending the procedures for the State Duma elections in a way that would in the future prevent one single party achieving the sort of domination currently enjoyed by pro-Putin party United Russia. "The fate of that legislation is crucial, as it will have a significant influence on the evolution of Russia's political field during the next political cycle," write VTB analysts.