Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 102

A Kremlin-sponsored bill that would eliminate a large number of Russia’s many political parties and place the remaining under closer state supervision passed the State Duma yesterday in a second reading. The bill remains on the whole unchanged from what its drafters at the Central Election Commission (CEC) originally conceived. But the debate leading up to yesterday’s vote, which was long and at times contentious, had the ultimate effect of liberalizing it a bit.

If the bill becomes law, it would require any organization wishing to register as a political party–and thus participate in parliamentary elections–to have chapters of no less than 100 members each in at least forty-five of the country’s eighty-nine regions and chapters of at least fifty members each in the remaining regions, with a total membership of at least 10,000. There will be a two-year “transition” period allowing parties to bring their memberships into line with the provisions. At the end of that period, the new provisions are expected to reduce the number of registered parties from 150 to twenty to fifty.

The bill also places stricter controls over party financing. It limits yearly cash contributions from individuals to 2,000 rubles (some US$70) and requires the highest permitted contribution from any individual, 2 million rubles (some US$70,000), to be made only by bank transfer. The maximum corporate contribution–20 million rubles (some US$700,000)–must also be made by bank transfer. Corporations that are either majority foreign-owned or 30-percent state-owned will not be allowed to contribute. The maximum amount that any one party can collect in private campaign donations is 2 billion rubles (some US$70 million). As originally conceived, the bill would essentially have done away with cash contributions altogether, on the grounds that they are often simply a way to launder money. Indeed, CEC Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov promised to reintroduce more draconian restrictions on cash contributions before the Duma votes on the bill in a third and final reading.

Opponents of the bill in its original form also managed to remove the Prosecutor General’s Office and its regional branches from the process of ensuring compliance with the law. As it now stands, the Justice Ministry will fulfill this oversight role, which will include the right to ask the Supreme Court to ban any party that has systematically violated the law (Gazeta.ru, May 24; Moscow Times, May 25).