Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 127

The Federation Council yesterday voted 219 to 13 against a Kremlin-sponsored draft law which would deprive governors and regional legislature heads of their seats in the upper parliamentary chamber. The draft law, which would rob the regional leaders of the immunity from criminal prosecution which comes with Federation Council membership, was one of three introduced by President Vladimir Putin aimed at reasserting the central government’s authorities over regional leaders. The veto was made almost inevitable after the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, rejected a number of significant amendments offered by the Federation Council members and passed the draft law by 308 votes. Many observers, however, are predicting that the Duma will almost certainly come up with the 300 or more votes necessary to override the Federation Council’s veto.

Others, however, say that this is by no means a foregone conclusion, and that Putin could be facing the first genuine political defeat of his presidency. A newspaper suggested today that the bill had originally passed the Duma with such a large majority because the regional leaders, who have strong lobbying levers in the Duma, had not strongly enunciated their opposition to Putin’s measures, at least publicly. Now that these leaders have gone on record as collectively rejecting one of the presidential draft laws, the paper said, it is “probable” that a Duma will not be able to gather the 300 or more votes required to override the Federation Council veto (Segodnya, June 29).

In addition, some Federation Council members claim that only 148 Duma deputies were present for the vote on the third reading of the presidential draft law, even though more than 308 deputies voted for it. Thus the Federation Council members plan to ensure that there is the necessary quorum in the Duma when it votes to override the Federation Council veto. Vladimir Lukin, formerly Russia’s ambassador to Washington and a Yabloko deputy in the State Duma, said it was likely that the veto would be overridden, but that there could be a “fierce battle for votes from both sides.” Even if the veto is overridden, some regional leaders have indicated that they will challenge the draft law in the Constitutional Court. The Kremlin is exploiting the fact that the constitution does not state specifically that the Federation Council should be made up of governors and regional legislature heads, but simply representatives of the executive and legislative branches of the regions (Russian agencies, NTV, June 28; Moscow Times, Segodnya, June 29).

Meanwhile, there are indications that the Kremlin has plans to reform the State Duma as well. Andrei Klimov, a Duma deputy with the Russian Regions faction, recently introduced a draft law according to which 150 Duma deputies would be elected according to party lists and 300 would be elected in single-mandate districts. At the moment, 225 Duma deputies are from party lists and 225 from single-mandate districts. The draft law was reportedly introduced at the initiative of Kremlin officials, who apparently believe a Duma dominated by deputies from single-mandate districts will be more manageable. In addition, Putin is reportedly planning to introduce a draft law later this year which would impose strict government control over the financing of political parties. The idea of funding political parties out of the state budget is reportedly under discussion (Itogi, June 27; Vedomosti, June 28).