Curbing regional power is only part of Putin’s centralizing reforms. The president apparently also intends to curb the parliament and reduce its capacity to interfere with executive action.
The bill that takes elected regional leaders out of the Federation Council weakens parliament as well. Elected regional leaders have their own constituencies, their own political bases. That gives them the independence that was on display when the Council repeatedly rejected President Boris Yeltsin’s efforts to fire a zealous prosecutor-general. Under Putin’s reforms, the Federation Council will comprise appointees of regional leaders who themselves may be fired by the president of Russia. That is likely to be a much less feisty bunch of legislators.
There are indications that the next wave of reforms will aim at weakening political parties. The weaker the parties, the more difficult it will be for Duma deputies to organize a coalition that can sustain a majority against Kremlin pressure and blandishments.
Andrei Klimov, a Duma deputy with the Russian Regions faction, recently introduced a bill to change the way the Duma is elected. Currently, 225 of the Duma’s 450 seats are distributed among the political parties in proportion to the vote each party receives, with the proviso that a party must win at least 5 percent of the votes to receive any seats at all. Each party then fills its seats from the top of its party list, a rank-ordering of its candidates drawn up before the election. The remaining 225 seats are filled by the candidates who come in first in each of the country’s 225 electoral districts. Klimov’s bill would reduce the party-list seats from 225 to 150, and increase the district or “single-mandate” seats to 300.
In addition to Klimov’s proposal, which the Kremlin is said to support, Putin is reported to be planning an elections law that will fund political parties out of the state budget. Parties now draw their funds from a variety of legal and illegal sources, and the larger parties commonly exceed statutory spending limits many times over. Curbing such abuses has a superficial democratic attraction, but those who want to get rid of the foxes guarding the henhouse could regret bringing in the wolf.