Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 74

On April 12, the State Duma passed a bill amending the law “On the general principles for organizing legislative (representative) and executive organs of state power in the subjects of the Russian Federation.” The idea behind the amendments is that from now on half of the deputies in each regional legislative body will be elected in single-mandate districts and half will be elected according to party lists. Currently the parliaments in a majority of Russia’s regions are elected exclusively according to the majoritarian principle (Russian agencies, April 12).

Experts say these changes in the law will weaken the regions’ autonomy. At least half of the deputies in the regional legislatures will now belong to federal parties, which will allow their Moscow party headquarters to exercise a tremendous influence over regional policy. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a member of the Duma’s committee on federation affairs and regional policy, said that the passage of the amendments has great significance for strengthening the country’s political system–above all, for establishing a multiparty system. In addition, the amendments may significantly limit the influence of regional leaders over the formation of local legislative assemblies (Gazeta, April 11; Radio Ekho Moskvy, April 12).

Indeed, at present most regional legislative bodies are under the control of their respective governors from the time they are elected. Precisely for this reason, it is premature to say that the changes passed by the Duma will resolve the problem of provincial elections, given that the governors will not cede their power without a fight. The Federation Council, the upper house of parliament, over which the governors still have great influence, still has to approve the amendments (Parliamentskaya Gazeta, April 12).

In addition, the amendments will come into effect immediately upon their passage but will not have retroactive force. Thus, while the fight over these changes continues, several regions are rushing to hold elections under the old system (Polit.ru, April 112). The election for the Saratov Oblast Duma, for example, has been scheduled for April 17. Last week, that legislature took up the issue of bringing the oblast’s election law in line with the revised federal law, but a majority of the deputies remain opposed to the idea of introducing voting according to party lists in the oblast (Russian agencies, April 11).