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Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin

Vladimir Vladimirovich PutinPutin

Debate on Russia's new law on political parties

The Kremlin responded to the first wave of protests in Russia on December 10 with political reforms. In April 2012, the amendments to the legislation regulating political parties entered into force while the Duma discusses changes to the governors' electoral system. Are these steps only democratic pretense? What is the opposition's take on the amended legislation? A report by Manarsha Isaeva

This year, the cold Russian winter was  very hot politically all throughout the country. Car rallies, sleigh rallies, nano demonstrations – rallies of toys with slogans – and spring carnivals were organized under the slogan "For free elections." The next demonstration of millions is planned on May 06 in Moscow and people in many other cities are planning to join. The demands of the demonstrators are diverse. They range from calls for the resignation of the Chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, Vladimir Tshurov, for the release of political prisoners and reform of the legislation on political parties, to demands for a repetition of the Duma and presidential elections.

Amendments to the legislation on political parties


The changes in the political system were President Dmitry Medvedev's initiative. The impetus for the idea is clear: the demonstrations after the Duma Election in December 2011 in Moscow and the regions, which were a surprise for everyone. Opposition parties have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the fraud after previous elections. The sheer number of demonstrators in Moscow, as well as in other cities was unexpectedly high, however. On December 10, December 24, February 4 and March 10, minor and major demonstrations against Vladimir Putin took place throughout the country. In some cities, citizens also took to the streets on other days. The State Duma adopted the new law  in three readings from December 2011 until March 2012. The second chamber, the Federation Council, approved the draft law on March 28. After the signature of the president, the law came into force in April 2012.

The old version of the law on political parties provided that each new party should have at least 40,000 members. This clause has been reduced to 500 members in the new law. A number of further changes simplify additionally the party registration: parties must be represented only in half of the regions and there is the opportunity for those that are poorly documented to submit improved documents. Thus, a party boom is expected in the next few months. The Ministry of Justice reports that  over 130 parties have submitted the application for registration up to now. The new party diversity  is reminiscent of the old pluralism of the 1990s: Pirate Party, Ecologist Party; a number of nationalist parties such as the National Democratic Party and Nationalist Party; socialist-oriented parties, such as RED Front and Other Russia as well as many other new parties. This includes the Party of Love or Subtropical Russia - all these parties can potentially compete in the next Duma Election. A quantitative change in contrast to the previous seven "major" parties: United Russia, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Social Democrats, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Yabloko, Right Cause and the People´s Freedom Party.

Are more parties equal more democracy?


The changes have provoked many discussions in the public space and in blogs. Some bloggers and also the activists of the last demonstrations, such as for example the leader of Left Front, Sergey Udaltsov, see the events finally as a personal victory against the system. Proponents of the law see new opportunities for the diversity of political parties and for democracy in Russia. The critics argue that the simplified procedure of registration would lead to an unlimited variety with corresponding confusion during the elections. Only some of the parties will have the chance of an independent political career.

Not all have approved the law. The parliamentary as well as the so-called "unstructured" opposition outside of the parliaments was involved in the drafting of the law. Its proposals were, however, not reflected in the new law., especially social democrats and communists point out hidden stumbling blocks. Despite the opposition's proposals for change, it is still prohibited to create party alliances during elections. In situations in which the votes for a political camp are split between several small parties, the ruling party United Russia will be the winner. The Kremlin promises to pursue further reforms after Putin's inauguration. The introduction of a new regulation for the electoral committees is discussed as a very urgent concern.  The “unstructured” opposition has little faith that the reforms will prove to have  a profound effect. Sergej Udaltsov considers them a Kremlin game with the goal to maintain the monopoly of power.

Whether the reforms will receive a new jolt in the next few months or perhaps be reversed, depends largely on the success of the demonstration of millions on May 06 in Moscow. Until then, the Duma will discus changes to the gubernatorial elections in the second and third reading, who, according to the bill, will be elected directly by the people again.