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Medvedev Signs Party Registration Bill
Alexei Korolyov - RIA Novosti - 4.3.12 - JRL 2012-61

MOSCOW, April 3 (Alexei Korolyov, RIA Novosti) - Outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev signed into law on Tuesday a bill to simplify Russia's current stringent requirements for the registration of political parties.

Duma Session File Photo
file photo
"The Justice Ministry should not be seen as a barrier - as participants in a previous discussion called it - but as a filter to do away with irregularities," Medvedev said in a meeting with some 40 leaders of unregistered parties in Moscow.

The ministry has repeatedly refused to register opposition parties, often on technicalities which Kremlin critics say reflect the authorities' fear of competition.

The law comes into force on April 4.

The bill, which was passed by wide majorities in both houses of parliament, reduces the membership requirement for registering a party to 500 people from the present 45,000.

It also abolishes the requirement for parties to collect voter signatures in order to take part elections.

Medvedev, who steps down in May after four years in the Kremlin, also pledged to amend the federal election law.

"We are just at the beginning of the path, but the development of the political system cannot be stopped," he said.

Medvedev proposed the reforms in the wake of mass protests that broke out after widespread allegations of fraud in favor of President-elect Vladimir Putin's United Russia party at December's parliamentary polls.

None of the prominent opposition figures were present at the meeting.

Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the opposition Left Front movement and one of the key figures in this winter's protests, refused to attend, saying he did not want to act as a "silent Kremlin decoration." Udaltsov has earlier described Medvedev's reform plan including the reinstatement of direct governors' elections as an "imitation of real reform."

The unregistered People's Freedom Party (Parnas) also bowed out, saying the meeting would lack any "substantial discussion."

Experts from the European Commisson for Democracy through Law welcomed the legislation in a report last month, but said the authorities would have to "reduce the level of bureaucratic control on the establishment and functioning of political parties" in order to make the reform effective.

The Venice Commission, which advises the Council of Europe on constitutional matters, warned against barring small groups from contesting elections, saying they may be "tempted in frustration to resort to undemocratic means."

"The argument that a multiplicity of small parties weakens democracy is not justified... The argument that weak parties must be suppressed because they present a threat to democracy is even less convincing. There is a risk that such arguments are used to justify the exclusion of unwelcome competitors rather than to safeguard democracy," the commission said.

"The possibility of dissolution or refusal of registration because of breach of the rules will continue to create a problem even after the number of members required to establish a political party is reduced," the body concluded.

Keywords: Russia, Government, Politics -