Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 240

The Duma will not be pleased by reports that Yeltsin wants to abandon the system under which the Duma is currently elected and switch to an exclusively "first-past-the-post" system. At present, one half of the Duma’s 450 members are elected by majority vote in individual constituencies, while the other 225 are elected by proportional representation in accordance with party lists. Party lists enable large numbers of often almost unknown deputies to be elected on the coat-tails of a single charismatic leader, of whom Vladimir Zhirinovsky is the prime example. The Duma members, half of whom owe their seats to the party list system, want to keep it. But Yeltsin’s aides have been arguing for over a year in favor of abandoning party lists in the apparent hope that this would reduce the power not only of Zhirinovsky, but also of the Communists and their nationalist and agrarian allies. A number of Russian regions have already gone over to majoritarian voting. Recent regional elections have indicated that voters are disenchanted with party politics and prefer to elect non-party pragmatists — in particular, businessmen — with whom the Yeltsin team feels it would be easier to do business.

Yeltsin has accordingly rejected a bill on elections approved by the Duma in the first reading on November 19, which would retain the party list system. Yeltsin has reportedly sent a letter to Speaker Seleznev spelling out his reasons for rejecting the Duma’s bill. Yeltsin argues that the fact that Russia has not yet evolved an effective multi-party system means that voting by party list produces a legislature that is not representative of voters’ preferences. Half of the Duma seats are held by Communists, while only a quarter of the electorate voted Communist in the 1995 election. Meanwhile, people who voted for parties that failed to clear the 5 percent hurdle have no member of parliament to represent their interests. This means, Yeltsin argues in his letter, that the constitutional principle that power belongs to the people and is exercised by means of the population’s chosen representatives is not being realized.

Russia Enters 1998 Without a Budget.