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Russian President Vladimir Putin-initiated reform of the national political system has already brought about a shrinkage in the list of political parties
Russian President Vladimir Putin-initiated reform of the national political system, expected to banish marginal political forces from the political scene, has already brought about a shrinkage in the list of political parties. Some opposition politicians have interpreted this as evidence of the authorities’ clampdown, while independent analysts tend to believe this is a purely technical measure taken to sweep dead wood. In 2007, of the 33 formally existing political parties 17 will be allowed to stay, while the 16 others will be abolished under court decisions. The Federal Registration Service (FRS) on Tuesday made public the first list of five parties already liquidated by courts – the Eurasian Union, the People’s Republican Party, the party of region’s development Nature and Society, the Party of Social Protection and the Union of People for Education and Science. Another seven parties are on the waiting list. Court procedures against them have been postponed, as there is a possibility they may take part in the regional elections in March. Under the law on political parties each party must have at least 50,000 members and at least 45 regional branches 500 members in each. Sixteen organizations are faced with the risk of being disbanded for abusing this requirement. Four decided it would make no sense to wait for court rulings and dissolved themselves of their own accord. Some analysts say the current requirements parties are expected to meet are draconian. “In Europe the very term of the political party’s strength does not exist at all. The very idea the FRS will count all parties’ members has shocked many western counterparts,” the chief of the Independent Institute of Elections, Alexander Ivchenko told the daily Gazeta. According to his sources, in counting political parties’ memberships FRS personnel relied on the polls of people featuring on the lists of this or that political association. The liberally-minded Republican Party has quite a few complaints to make against the way the FRS goes about this business. Republican Party leader, State Duma member Vladimir Ryzhkov told the daily Gazeta in an interview the FRS statistics were partial. “We have at our disposal written statements from 63,000 citizens of Russia confirming they are Republican Party members. The FRS argues we have a mere 40,000,” says surprised Ryzhkov. “There is a court decision confirming that in certain regions local branches have 700 members, while the FRS claims there is nobody at all. We are hoping to prove in a court of law that the FRS uses unconfirmed data.” The daily Vek remarks that far from everybody has agreed with the authorities’ attempts to rid the nation of dwarf parties. “Some have described the measures as draconian, others doubted whether party memberships were counted partially, and the Opposition, in its usual way, interpreted them as evidence of the authorities’ intention to quash dissent.” “As far as the Republican Party, faced with very serious re-registration problems, is concerned, one might agree there is a certain political background involved. With the above-mentioned political outsiders it’s all far simpler. The electorate will lose nothing, if these marginal groups disappear.” The members of the doomed political parties are pessimistic by and large. “We have no intention of either transforming ourselves into some sort of public association or teaming up with other parties. We considered that possibility only to arrive at the conclusion that none of the existing movements is capable of meeting our requirements,” the leader of the Union of People for Education and Science, Vyacheslav Igrunov, told the daily Gazeta. “When there is the Supreme Court’s decision, we will most probably disband ourselves and cease to exist.” Although the party’s lawyers will appear before the Supreme Court to object against the party’s closure, they would protest not the FRS’s actions, but the law itself. Vladimir Ryzhkov is no less pessimistic. He claims that the authorities’ steps to liquidate minor parties in fact bar the Opposition from elections. “This is precisely the reason why Sergei Glaziev has been unable to secure the registration of his party. Mikhail Kasyanov has failed to take the position of the Democratic Party’ leader. Neither Irina Khakamada, nor the soldiers’ mothers have had their parties registered, either. The law on political parties is draconian, indeed. Any party can be banned any moment.” Ryzhkov warned that if the Republican Party fails to defend its interests in the Supreme Court, it will take the case to Strasbourg to show “how very undemocratic the latest legal amendments really are.” For the representatives of parties in power everything is quite clear. The head of the State Duma’s committee for the affairs of public associations and religious organizations, Sergei Popov, of the United Russia, says most parties concerned are fly-by-night groups created on the eve of another parliamentary elections, or pseudo-parties, custom-tailored for a specific leader or Mr. Moneybags for the sole purpose of achieving very specific aims. The deputy chief of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, Valery Ryazansky, has said that “liquidation will merely do good to the nation and to the electorate.” The on-line periodical Utro.ru quotes Alexei Makarkin, the deputy director of the Political Technologies Institute, as saying there are two underlying reasons for the current goings-on in the political scene. “The technical vector is the authorities intention to have only major parties left, to do away with the marginal parties that represent nobody and have nothing but political franchising to rely on. There is also the wish to have parties that are real players, and not traders in political brands. The other, political vector, stems from the Kremlin’s intention to leave the most radical part of the political opposition overboard, by raising the membership qualification letting a political party to stay afloat to 50,000. Both aims have been achieved to a greater extent at the expense of forces that represented nobody. But the Opposition was harmed, too.” The general director of the national public opinion studies center VCIOM, Valery Fyodorov, believes that the liquidation of political parties under court decisions will remain unnoticed by and large. “What we are about to witness now is disposal of political corpses, and not fundamental changes to the political system. The nominal status of these parties will be brought in line with the reality,” he said. “The political parties being eliminated are not oppositional ones and they never had the intention of positioning themselves as such. That’s purely technical work. There is no big politics behind, let alone persecution of the opposition,” the founder of the National Strategy Institute, Stanislav Belkovsky told Itar-Tass. “Major players on the political pitch are clear to one and all, while small parties have little hope of staying in play,” the political scientist said. “The few bright figures those parties can boast will easily find a place for themselves in other projects.” Vladimir Ryzhkov points to what he believes is “an exception to the rule.” At the same time he remarked that the potential of his Republican Party should not be overestimated. “Even if it had itself registered, it would be unable to cope with the 7-percent hurdle” to be represented in the State Duma, he said. The latest opinion polls have pointed to three other parties, alongside United Russia, that have good chances of wining seats in the State Duma in this year’s election – the Federation Council speaker-led Fair Russia-MPL, the Communists, and the Liberal Democrats.
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