Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 102

The draft law on political parties was approved overwhelmingly in its second Duma reading by a vote of 261-56, with one abstention. It was supported most strongly by the Yabloko and the People’s Deputy factions, both of which voted unanimously in favor. The Unity, Fatherland-All Russia (OVR) and the Russia’s Regions factions also voted overwhelmingly in favor. Ironically, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) faction joined its traditional political enemy, the KPRF, in opposing the bill (Gazeta.ru, May 24). However, while an overwhelming majority of the SPS deputies voted against, a significant number of the KPRF deputies were absent during the voting and 12 percent of the members of the Agro-Industrial group, which is closely allied to the KPRF, voted in favor. Cynical observers might be forgiven for thinking that the KPRF and its allies did something they are suspected of having done frequently in the past–that is, opposed the measure rhetorically while colluding with the Kremlin to ensure that it was passed.

The SPS faction objected in particular to the measure stipulating state funding for political parties. Boris Nemtsov, head of the SPS’s Duma faction, argued that this would favor the KPRF, which has always garnered more votes than any other single party, movement or bloc (Radio Ekho Moskvy, May 14). KPRF leader Gennady Zyuganov, however, echoed some of the SPS arguments against the bill, saying that the federal funds earmarked for political parties could be better used for other purposes–for example, helping the victims of the recent flood in Yakutia. Zyuganov also expressed fears that the authorities would use the increased state supervision over parties stipulated in the bill as a weapon against the KPRF (NTV, May 24).

Still others have warned that the bill would essentially destroy regional political parties. Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent State Duma deputy, wrote last week that the bill was one of the main components of the Kremlin’s drive to establish a “vertical of power” and would, among other things, “liquidate” local and regional political organizations. Ryzhkov argued that the complex and “repressive bureaucratic” character of the process for re-registering parties–which, among other things, would require them to hand over information about their members to the Justice Ministry–would favor only “very rich structures or those close to the authorities.” He claimed that the new law would also have the effect of further reducing the level of Russian citizens’ involvement in politics, which, he said, is already very low. He cited an estimate that only 0.5-0.6 percent of Russia’s adult population belongs to political organizations. Finally, he argued that the provisions concerning party finances would institute tight state control over such funding without changing its basic “oligarchical” nature (Utro.ru, May 18).

SPS Deputy Boris Nadezhdin echoed Ryzhkov’s concerns, calling yesterday’s vote “a huge victory for the Kremlin” that signified “the end of liberal politics in Russia” (Moscow Times, May 25).